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Former HHS classmates in same boat with Badgers

Hudson High School graduates Lynn Maher, second from left, and Betsy Huffman, center, celebrate with their teammates Brittany Renault, Hannah Drury and Lisa Godhardt after taking first place in the second varsity four race at the Big Ten Women's Rowing Championships May 2 in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Ohio State Athletic Communications1 / 2
Betsy Huffman, left, and Lynn Maher take a break at practice on Lake Mendota in Madison last week. Photo by Paul Capobianco, UW Athletics2 / 2

Hudson High School graduates Betsy Huffman and Lynn Maher will try to help the University of Wisconsin women's rowing team win a national championship when the Badgers compete in the 2009 NCAA Rowing Championships this weekend on the Cooper River in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Wisconsin enters the championships after placing fifth at the NCAA Central/South Regional May 16-17 in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Huffman and Maher led the Badgers' second varsity four boat to a first place finish at the Big Ten Championships May 2 in Columbus, Ohio. The Badgers finished fourth as a team.

Huffman and Maher are both 2007 graduates of Hudson High School who joined the Badgers' rowing team last year as freshmen.

"They do a really good job of recruiting," Huffman, valedictorian of her high school graduating class, said. "I knew I wanted to get on the water and I thought maybe the sailing team. But they sent me some information and I thought I would check it out and I fell in love with it. They got me hooked. I just fell into it."

Maher, a former soccer player at Hudson, had just completed a 42-day canoe trip in the Arctic before beginning her freshman year at Madison.

"By the time I got to school, I couldn't bear to be off the water," she said. "They also have very good recruiting. They're like, "You're tall, why don't you come out?'

"It's definitely a different experience," she added. "I played soccer for 14 years, but I'd never done anything like this before. I had nothing to compare it to."

The former classmates ended up in the same boat this year, with Huffman as coxswain and Maher one of the port rowers. The second varsity four boat consists of four rowers and a coxswain. Other boats include eight rowers.

"It was just kind of where we both landed," said Huffman, who played a little volleyball and soccer in high school before falling in love with theater her junior year. "It's been great to do this together. I've grown close to all the girls, but it's especially nice to have Lynn there."

The Badger coaches recognized Huffman's leadership ability immediately and put her in the coxswain's position

"Our top priority is safety and steering," she said. "The rowers all row backwards so they rely on me for steering. I'm kind of like an on-the-water coach. I have a microphone that's connected to a speaker on the boat and I help them with technique and motivation. If you have to make a change, there are four to eight girls rowing, so you have to make that change at once."

Maher said she didn't know what she was getting into when she tried out for the team.

"I had never seen a live race before so I had no idea. I thought, 'Rowing? That sounds easy,' but not so much," she said. "They did a good job working with us. After a while you get the terminology down. It's a whole new language."

Huffman said she was in the same boat, so to speak.

"I knew nothing about it a few years ago," she said. "It's a beautiful sport to watch. It's very technical; it's got a language unto itself."

Maher said the highlight so far this season was winning a Big Ten championship together.

"That race we worked hard," she said. "We have one senior in the boat and she had never won a medal, so the rest of us said, 'We'll get you that medal.' Betsy called a great race and everything was right on."

Both girls practice up to 20 hours a week on Lake Mendota in Madison. The Badger boathouse also includes a tank of moving water so the team can train when the ice is still on the water. Spring is the main racing season but the team also competes in the fall.

Maher said she loves the adrenaline rush of the sport, and that having Huffman in the boat next to her makes it extra special.

"Not a lot of people know that we went to high school together," she said. "Not only that but we played soccer together, we were lab partners. Now to be in the same boat, it's pretty comfortable."

Huffman said she enjoys being along for the ride.

"I've been very lucky so far," she said.

Huffman, a biochemistry major, will remain in Madison this summer while Maher will head up to Ely, Minn., for her second year as a staff member at YMCA Camp Widjiwagan.

But not before competing in this weekend's national rowing championships in New Jersey.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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