Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 14
 
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
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VOICE OF CHANGE: Princeton University crew coach Greg Hughes instructs his rowers in a training session last spring. Last Saturday, Hughes guided the Tiger men’s heavyweight first varsity to a win over Georgetown in his debut as new head coach of the program. Hughes is a veteran of the Princeton rowing scene, having starred for the Tiger lightweights in the mid-1990s before serving as freshman heavyweight coach and men’s lightweight head coach. He took over the heavyweight program last summer after the retirement of longtime coach Curtis Jordan.

PU Heavyweight Rowers Show Commitment as Hughes Era Begins With Resounding Win

Bill Alden

When Greg Hughes first addressed the Princeton University men’s heavyweight crew last fall as its new head coach, a fire and brimstone speech could have been in order.

After all, the Princeton heavyweight varsity eight underachieved last spring, posting a disappointing 1-6 record and finishing 13th at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championship regatta.

In the wake of the dismal campaign, longtime head coach Curtis Jordan retired after 19 seasons, 131 wins, and two national titles.

The fiery Hughes, on the other hand, drove the Tiger lightweight men’s first varsity to one of the greatest seasons in the sport’s history in 2009, as it went undefeated on the way to winning the Eastern Sprints, IRAs, and a Henley Royal Regatta title.

As a Princeton lightweight star in the mid-1990s and successful freshman heavyweight coach at his alma mater before taking the helm of the Tiger lightweight program, Hughes was a natural choice to succeed Jordan.

And while it would have been natural for Hughes to light a fire under his new charges, he quickly realized that wasn’t necessary.

“Everyone was motivated when I walked in the door; there was nothing I needed to do to set the tone,” recalled Hughes, a 1996 Princeton alum.

“They wanted direction; they wanted to know what they should do to get better. It was interesting because I knew all the guys even though I didn’t coach them. I knew it was a good group of guys who wanted to do better. The message was let’s move forward.”

Last Saturday, the top varsity eight took a major step forward, opening its 2010 season with a convincing win over Georgetown, posting a time of 5:40.0 on its home course at Lake Carnegie, some 25 seconds better than the Hoyas.

The seeds for Saturday’s success were sown last fall. “We definitely had some work to do in the fall,” said Hughes. “The results were positive. It was the first sign that we could compete.”

Another good sign was the commitment Hughes saw from his rowers during winter training. “The guys worked real hard over the winter; they made a lot of progress on the ERG,” said Hughes.

“We had good speed at the top end but there was a gap. This winter, as a squad, the guys were really taking it seriously. We had lots of guys putting up personal bests.”

The Tigers built on that progress by putting in a serious effort on their winter training trip to Austin, Texas in late January.

“I always feel that is a spot where a team can make really big strides,” explained Hughes.

“It is a week away from school; the fall semester is over so there is no academic load. You can work on building a sense of team, the older guys really get to know the freshmen. You also see how the guys respond to going out everyday and getting beaten up on the water. They kept getting more and more competitive.”

In Hughes’ view, that competitive spirit is the outgrowth of the leadership provided by the program’s senior class.

“We have really good senior leadership,” said Hughes, referring to his group of eight seniors.

“Seniors have a different outlook on things. All of a sudden, their college career looks finite. They have one more chance and it means much more to those guys.”

It meant a lot for Hughes to finally get the spring season underway. “I was pumped; it’s about time to start,” said Hughes. “I was getting sick of being asked to compare this to last year. That was a really rewarding experience but it’s history for me. I like racing and I am looking forward to the big races we have this spring.”

While Hughes was happy with his top boat’s showing in the opener, he wasn’t going overboard with excitement.

“We did get some data back,” said Hughes. “There is nothing like lining up against someone and racing and seeing how the guys do. We have to keep it in perspective; everyone is still figuring things out at this time of the year. We will see bigger competition.”

The Tigers won’t have to wait long to face some big competition as they will compete for the Childs Cup this Saturday against Columbia and Penn at Orchard Beach, N.Y.

Columbia made big strides last spring, placing seventh at the Eastern Sprints last spring before finishing 11th in the IRAs. Penn has brought in new head coach Greg Myhr to help it improve on a 2009 season that saw it finish 20th at the IRA regatta.

“That is a big test for us,” said Hughes. “Columbia did some great things last year and most of their guys are back. It is exciting to be able to go to their water; we know that we have to be at our best to win.”

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