INDIANAPOLIS -- Rowers hailing from British Columbia to Peru to Germany braved the elements in the 2013 NCAA Division I Rowing Championships at Eagle Creek Park on Friday. And even though it’s her first appearance at the national championships, Ohio State freshman and New Zealand native Catherine Shields has already made an impression.

The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year rowed eight-seat for the Buckeyes’ second Varsity 8, which sounded the horn in 6 minutes, 50.74 seconds -- five seconds ahead of Virginia -- for a first-place finish and a spot in the semifinals.

“We’ve been training for this all season; NCAAs have been our final goal. The first race is always nerve-racking and we’ve got some things to work on, but overall it was a really good first race,” Shields said.

The opportunity to row at the college level entices many international rowers to head stateside to programs such as USC, which has a first Varsity 8 team filled with Europeans except for one seat, and Cal, which has a pair of Australians on its heat-winning 2V8.

“I started rowing when I was 13 in the South Islands,” Shields said. “I thought there was high-school rowing and elite rowing -- I didn’t know about the things in the middle like collegiate rowing over here.”

Shields gained international attention and experience at the 2009 and '11 World Junior Rowing Championships in Brive-la-Gaillarde, France, and at Eton Dorney in England, as well as the 2010 Youth Cup in Sydney.

“I was fortunate enough to make the New Zealand junior team in the women’s eight and we won silver. We were the first women’s eight to even medal for New Zealand, so we made a bit of history there. Then I made the junior women’s team again in the four and we came in bronze,” she said.

The intensity of these races has prepared Shields for the excitement of the national championships.

“[I’ve] definitely got the background for some hard, intense races. You’ve got Cal and Stanford and Washington, those big-name schools you come up against, just like you would’ve had Germany or Spain,” Shields said. “And you don’t underestimate anybody, just like you don’t underestimate any country. You respect all the girls that you race against and just do all that you can to make sure your training pays off at the end of the day.”

Despite her experience with world-class competition, Shields admits this is still her first national college race.

“I think no matter how much training or experience you have, you never know what you’re going to come up against,” Shields said. “We have a few novices spread throughout our boats and for them, this is a whole new ballgame, just like me, this is my first year here, too, so it’s also a whole new ballgame for me. I just try and take what I’ve learned from my past big races and apply it.”

Although she hasn’t been able to go home at all this year and her mother woke up at 1:20 Friday morning to watch her daughter’s heat, Shields has enjoyed her American rowing experience so far.

“Ohio State has amazing facilities. They definitely take care of you over in here in America [as an athlete] and it’s been a lot of fun,” Shields said. “It’s definitely been a lot colder in the winter than what I’ve been used to at home, though. It’s usually -4 degrees Celsius [24.8 Fahrenheit] at home and here it was -17 [1.4 Fahrenheit]. Rowing in snow and breaking ice -- that was a first.”

The Buckeye program has also united her with fellow World Rowing Junior Championships participants from South Africa, France, Spain and Italy.

“I didn’t compete against them, but I [was] actually at the same junior worlds as my teammates” she said. “Claire-Louise [Bode], I was in France with her in 2009 and then Dorney. I was in Eton with her, Aina [Cid Centelles] from Spain and Daphne [Socha] from France and Silvia [De Matteis] from Italy, we were all at the same regatta at Eton Dorney. We have photos on Facebook with each other in the background. It’s such a small world.”

Despite their past as competitors and varied nationalities, Ohio State’s 2V8 has powered ahead of the pack with a boat comprised of many international freshmen because of teamwork and trust.

“We have a lot of trust in each other and we all pull hard for each other,” Shields said. “You pull hard for them, they pull hard for you. Only we know how much we’ve done and how much we’ve gone through. I think that’s what makes us fast.”