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Vol. LXIV, No. 34
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
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(Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

GOLD DIGGERS: Michaela Strand, left, and Sara Hendershot dig deep in action this spring for the Princeton University women’s open crew top boat. Strand, a rising senior, has soaked up lessons from Hendershot ’10 in emerging as a key performer for a Tiger boat that posted a second place finish in the Eastern Sprints and third in the NCAA grand final. This summer, the two combined to help the U.S. women’s four earn a gold medal at the 2010 World Rowing Under-23 Championships in Brest, Belarus.

Learning Lessons From PU Crew Role Models, Tiger Rower Strand Earns Gold at U-23 Worlds

Bill Alden

Upon joining the Princeton University women’s open rowing team in the fall of 2007, Michaela Strand latched on to some good role models.

As Strand made the transition to college rowing, she soaked up plenty of lessons from coxswain Ariel Frost and stroke Sara Hendershot, who ended up as team co-captains this season in their senior year, leading Princeton to a second place finish in the Eastern Sprints and third in the NCAA grand final.

“Having Ari [Frost] and Sara [Hendershot] a grade above me was great,” said Strand. “They were both great leaders. They led by example and inspired everyone to reach their potential. They had a clear sense of purpose.”

It didn’t take long for Seattle native Strand to show her potential as she earned a spot on the Princeton varsity eight as a freshman.

Over the last two years, Strand has developed into a key performer for the Tigers as they have climbed back into national title contention.

“I started to figure things out as a sophomore; I learned how to race mentally,” said Strand, a rising senior who has rowed in the No. 7 seat right behind stroke Hendershot. “I learned how to be tough and have the right mentality to go against people bigger and stronger and race them hard.”

This summer, Strand showed that she can race against the best international rowers, helping the U.S. women’s four earn a gold medal at the 2010 World Rowing Under-23 Championships in Brest, Belarus.

Fittingly, Strand was joined on the women’s four by Hendershot. “It was fun that we both ended up on the same boat,” said Strand, noting that Frost also earned gold as she coxed the U.S. women’s eight to victory.

“It was so cool and amazing to win gold. Sara and I hadn’t gotten first in any of the big regattas. We wore our medals all weekend long.”

For Strand, the progress the Tigers made this season was a springboard for her coming into the tryouts for the U-23 team.

“I knew we were faster and we carried what we had learned the year before,” said Strand. “We had experience and new blood. To place third in the NCAA final and place third overall was great. Finishing the season that way had me feeling positive.”

Strand got another boost when she was named as a second-team All-American after the season.

“Somebody texted me that and I couldn’t believe it,” said Strand, who was one of four All-Americans on the boat with Hendershot, Ashton Brown, and Lauren Wilkinson earning first-team recognition.

“In many ways crew is the ultimate team sport; you don’t want to stand out. One of the reasons we did so well this year is that everyone on the boat was fast. To be singled out from such an amazing group was special.”

As Strand and the other rowers competed for a spot on the U-23 squad at Chula Vista, she was helped by the presence of her Princeton teammates in the camp. “To have Ari, Sara, and freshman Nicole [Bielawski] there, gave me a nice support system,” added Strand.

Once Strand and Hendershot were chosen for the U.S. four, it took a while for them to get on the same page with their new boatmates, Julie Smith from Stanford and Hannah Malvin of Brown.

“We didn’t show speed right off the bat; we started to click a few weeks in,” said Strand.

“Sara and I are on same program while the two other rowers are from different programs. We started to feel like we could do well. It shows how you have to give boats time and be patient.”

Upon starting competition in Belarus, the U.S. boat didn’t waste any time showing it had plenty of speed, posting the fastest time of the heats in winning its opening race and advancing directly into the final.

“We went into the heat to race our race and see what happens; we saw that we belong here,” recalled Strand.

“Having the fastest time was a little bit unexpected. Going into final, we kept in mind that people have different race plans from heat to the final.”

In the final, Strand and her teammates fought an uphill battle to gold, standing sixth at the 500-meter mark before surging to top runner-up Australia by 2.86 seconds and third-place Germany by 4.04 seconds.

“It was so different from Princeton races where we usually get off to a pretty quick start,” said Strand.

“The field was tight; I knew we were in it. We have been working on a strong middle 1000. We had a calm controlled composed race. We had Australia right next to us; we could hear their calls. We worked back inch by inch; it was a very internal race. At the halfway point, I knew we were going to win once we shifted up to a higher stroke rate. The coaches had been after us to not start too fast and it paid off. We had something left.”

As Strand heads into her senior year in a few weeks, she is primed to set a good example for the younger rowers in her role as team captain.

“I will be showing people this is what it is going to take,” said Strand. “We have a really good class of seniors; they will all pitch in and help with the leadership. We want to build off what we did the past year. We want to win Eastern Sprints; we have been fourth, third, and second the last three years. Then we will see what we can do in the team competition at the NCAA.”

And after her experience this summer in Belarus, Strand is thinking about staying with the U.S. program to pursue more international competition.

“It was great to finish with a gold medal in U-23 but it leaves you wanting more,” said Strand. “You get hooked on that feeling. I would like the opportunity to compete more on the world stage.”

With Frost and Hendershot staying in the area to train with the national program, Strand should be able to soak up some more lessons from her mentors.

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