Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 29
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
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(Photo by Fred Klein Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

FIRM GRASP: Princeton University men’s lightweight head coach Greg Hughes, left, hugs stroke Robin Prendes after the Tigers won the Temple Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta earlier this month. The win was the first Henley title for the Princeton lightweight program since 1973. It was an especially sweet victory for Hughes, a star Princeton lightweight rower in the 1990s.

Hughes Savors Henley Royal Regatta Victory As PU Men’s Lightweights Save Best for Last

Bill Alden

Even though the Henley Royal Regatta annually takes places in the first week of July, the weather can seem autumn-like at the course near London.

Over the years, the rowers have been hit with sheets of rain and temperatures in the 40s or 50s.

But when the Princeton University men’s lightweight crew arrived in England to compete for the Temple Challenge Cup in late June, it was greeted by a heat wave with sunny skies and the thermometer soaring into the 80s.

With the Tigers having scorched the competition all spring in a brilliant season that saw the top varsity boat go undefeated and win the Eastern Sprints and Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) titles along the way, Princeton head coach Greg Hughes was hoping his rowers would benefit from the surprisingly pleasant conditions.

“We were getting good water,” said Hughes, who guided the Princeton freshmen heavyweights to a Henley title in 2003 before taking over the lightweight program two years later.

“The weather there can be a little hit or miss but the weather was fantastic this time with no rain at all. They were putting up some pretty solid times.”

As the Tigers lined up for their opening race against the University of Bristol ‘A’ in the head-to-head, single elimination competition, Hughes was cautiously optimistic.

“The first race was a gut check,” said Hughes. “Are you really fast or are the times make-believe? We needed to get the kinks out; we needed to get used to racing that course.”

Princeton showed that it hasn’t lost its racing edge, storming past Bristol, Newcastle, the University of Dublin, and A.S.R. Neurus of the Netherlands to make the finals against the Brown University freshmen heavyweight eight.

The Tigers completed their dream season in style, outlasting the Bears to pull out a length victory.

For Hughes, a former Princeton men’s lightweight star rower, the moment of victory triggered a sense of closure.

“I was choked up, there was nothing else to do,” recalled Hughes. “We had done everything we could do; it is very special to accomplish that. It was the first Henley title for the lightweights since 1973, the year I was born.”

It took a special effort for the Tigers to best their bigger Ivy competitors in the championship race.

“It is a long race and we don’t have the horsepower that they they have,” said Hughes.

“We needed to use what we have efficiently. We planned to make a push halfway; the guys have been pretty effective at that all year. We took the upper hand but you have to defend it. It was their most impressive race of the year.”

The win capped an impressive career for Princeton’s corps of seniors which included Justin Teti, Tom Paulett, Dave Krueger, Alex Dillon, and coxswain Dave Cleveland.

“The seniors have had a great year, they have proven a lot,” asserted Hughes, whose top boat also included Robin Prendes, Jack Leonard, James Donovan, and Christian Klein.

“It was great to see them go out like that. They proved their legacy. Lots of people have been asking me if this is the greatest lightweight boat ever. You can’t quantify that. It is different crews racing at different times in different weather.”

For Hughes, helping the 2009 boat achieve greatness was as much about the journey as the destination.

“That’s what I love about coaching, you start from scratch each year,” said Hughes. “The end game is the result but how you get there is different every year. I had a successful first year and I tried to do the same workouts on the same days the next year and the boat didn’t hit those times. The team will dictate the training.”

From beginning to end this season, the Tigers showed an innate ability to dictate things in their races.

“They met a lot of challenges,” added Hughes. “They didn’t have one way of racing a race. In the face of a lot of challenges, they prevailed. If they didn’t have a way to win, they found it.”

And, in the process, the boat proved it can take the heat on both sides of the Atlantic.

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