Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 27
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
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(Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

GOLD STRAND: Michaela Strand, left, and Sara Hendershot dig deep in 2010 action for the Princeton University women’s open crew first varsity 8. Strand succeeded Hendershot and Ari Frost as team captain and led Princeton to a banner spring in her senior campaign. Strand helped the first varsity 8 win the grand finals in the Eastern Sprints and the NCAAs. Last week, Strand and the Tigers culminated their 2011 season by making the quarterfinals of the Remenham Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in England where they fell to the U.S. national team, the eventual champions of the competition.

Strand Provided Strength, Support in Captain’s Role As PU Women’s Open Crew Made Henley Quarters

Bill Alden

In assuming the role as captain of the Princeton University woman’s open crew this past season, Michaela Strand felt some pressure.

“I had some big shoes to fill; we had two great role models [Sara Hendershot and Ari Frost] to guide us the year before,” said Strand, referring to her predecessors as captain.

“They showed us what it takes if we want to win the Eastern Sprints or the NCAAs. You have to work really, really hard and stay hungry all year. You have to be pushing each other while being supportive at the same time.”

Strand more than lived up to the example set by Hendershot and Frost as she helped the Tiger first varsity to an undefeated regular season and title at the Eastern Sprints and the NCAA championships.

Last week, Strand culminated her Princeton career on the world stage as the Tigers advanced to the quarterfinals of the Remenham Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in England where they fell to the U.S. national team, the eventual champions of the competition.

In Strand’s view, the journey to England started with the physical and mental work put in last fall and winter on and around Lake Carnegie.

“We worked hard to build endurance and power that we needed for the season,” said Strand, a native of Seattle, Wash. who rowed in the five-seat this year for Princeton.

“But that work only gets you to the starting line; you need to have something extra, an x-factor when you transition to the water.”

The Tigers showed that extra oomph when they started the spring by topping Brown and Michigan State, boats that both ended up in the NCAA grand final.

“We certainly don’t ease into the season; it can be a rude awakening seeing how you stack up against some of the best competition,” said Strand. “I think that helped us.”

Using the opening weekend as a springboard, Princeton kept rolling, posting its second straight undefeated regular season.

“The unique thing about this year is that we built off of each race,” asserted Strand.

“We were constantly seeing what we could do well and what we could do better. It is something we worked on everyday.”

That work paid dividends at the Eastern Sprints as the first varsity 8 won its first title in the regatta since 2006, highlighting a special day that saw Princeton also win titles in the second and third varsity 8 and the varsity 4.

“It is something we have been shooting at for a long time,” said Strand. “It has been a long time since Princeton won the team trophy and a long time since the first varsity won. There was a lot of energy, Princeton wanted to get back on top.”

As the wins piled up for Princeton on Cooper River, the other Tigers fed off their teammates’ success.

“Every person on the team is important; the entire squad did well from top to bottom,” said Strand.

“It was an incredible day. As we saw the Princeton boats go ahead in each race, it got the collective excitement going for the rowers warming up.”

At the NCAA regatta in Sacramento, Calif. Princeton stubbed its toe with a second place finish to USC in the semifinals but was not fazed as it looked ahead to the grand final.

“It is good that we have heats; you can learn what you did in one heat and apply it to the next,” explained Strand.

“It is a step-by-step process. We were not worried by the loss in the semis; we did a more conservative race. We knew the final would be really close and we needed energy for that.”

Princeton expended all of its energy in the final, holding off runner-up Brown in a thrilling race that saw the top five boats finish within three seconds of each other.

“The last 500 meters was the most incredible part of the race; I didn’t really know how close it was until after we came out of the water and saw the splits,” recalled Strand.

“Lila [coxswain Lila Flavin] did an incredible job of giving us information. When she told us we were ahead with 500 meters to go, I was thinking nobody is going to take this way from us. We put the blinders on. Our stroke [Lauren Wilkinson] had told us this was not going to be one of those races where you said afterwards that we needed five more strokes. We were going to give everything.”

It took a while for Strand and her teammates to fully appreciate their triumph.

“We didn’t know right away; it was an amazing feeling,” said Strand. “The ramifications of what it means didn’t sink in for a few days. Everyone who was part of it knew how close it was and what a special race it was.”

For Strand, getting to row at Henley was special since it represented not only the end of her Princeton career but likely her last competitive rowing.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity; I couldn’t think of a better way to end my rowing experience at Princeton,” asserted Strand, who was recently named as a first-team All-America selection by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA).

“It is hard; I am not going to row any more. I have had a unique experience, going out on top like this.”

Over the years, Strand has developed a unique bond with her classmates.

“We have tremendous respect for each other,” said Strand, whose fellow seniors in the program include Emily Reynolds, Ashton Brown, Cynthia Kroll, Catherine Parkhurst, and Wilkinson.

“There are only six of us and we have been through a lot individually and collectively. I have been rowing on the same boat with three of the girls since freshmen year and the other seniors were an important part of the team as well. I think we helped create a positive environment from the top to the bottom of the program.”

As she reflects on her individual crew experience, Strand believes she has grown into a stronger person.

“I think the opportunity to row for four years at college can be daunting,” said Strand, who is heading to New York City to work for a social media company.

“To come out on the other side and to go through the ups and downs, I have gained a lot of strength. I have learned if you are passionate about something, you can overcome things in your way. You learn to pick yourself up and come back from setbacks. We lost by .07 seconds at the Easterns last year and we did not settle for the same result this year.”

And with Strand providing strong leadership in her role as captain, Princeton wasn’t about to settle for less than its best this spring.

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