Princeton Heavyweight Rowers Revving Up In Hopes of Speeding to IRA Championship
By Bill Alden
As reunion and graduation festivities have bathed Princeton with a celebratory air over the Memorial Day holiday, one group in town spent last weekend hunkered down in the final stages of a special project.
After falling by just over one second to Harvard at the Eastern Sprints in mid-May, the rowers on the Princeton University men's heavyweight crew have been pushing themselves through double sessions looking to make up that gap.
This weekend, the Tigers will get the chance to see that project to fruition as they compete against defending national champion Harvard and the rest of the nation's elite boats in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) championships at Cooper River in Camden.
After a practice session last week, Princeton head coach Curtis Jordan was guardedly optimistic as he assessed his team's preparation.
"It's like anything, it's a work in progress," said Jordan, referring to his team's efforts over the last three weeks.
"We've got a couple of little things we've been working on, just parts of the race. I think our performance at the Easterns was a really good performance."
In Jordan's view, his rowers don't have to reinvent the wheel as they look to get faster. "The basics were there at the Easterns, they raced well," asserted Jordan, who is in his 12th year coaching the Tiger varsity heavyweight crew.
"We didn't feel like we walked away from the Sprints saying there is one part of the race that's just bad. We're going back and doing some stuff we've been doing all along just trying to make some little points."
After losing by more than six seconds to defending national champion Harvard when the boats met in the regular season in April, the improvement shown by Princeton in the rematch has Jordan and his rowers fine-tuning a few specifics.
"We'd like to have a little faster start," explained Jordan, whose program did take the Rowe Cup at the Easterns, given to the school that amasses the most overall points at the competition. "As for our base race, we'd like it to be a little better."
In Jordan's view, having seniors Aaron Kroeker and Warren Caldwell on board might lend a special hunger to his top boat
"There is definitely a purpose for them," asserted Jordan, referring to the two seniors. "I wouldn't say that it exceeds anybody else but I think they have a sense of finality."
The top boat features a powerful contingent of juniors in James Egan, Pier DeRoo, Sam Loch, Steve Coppola, and Alex Hearne, a Princeton native. That group formed the core of the heavyweight boat that won the Temple Challenge Cup at the Henley Regatta in 2003.
In the view of senior captain Spencer Washburn, who has rowed with the second varsity this spring, the rowers are better able to home in on the task at hand with the school year now complete.
"We're working double sessions now," said Washburn, who rowed with the top varsity boat the previous two springs.
"Basically, we're now here in school just to row. We can really focus on getting things together. After what happened at the Easterns, people feel we are so close to being at the top."
It won't be easy for Princeton to end up on top at the IRA event as it is not only facing Harvard but such powers from the west as Cal, Washington, and Stanford.
"It'll be a little bit less of a two-boat show," said Jordan. "It's hard enough to beat Harvard but then you add Cal, Washington, and Stanford."
While Jordan respects the competition, he maintains that Princeton just needs to worry about itself.
"It's not an offensive/defensive kind of sport," explained Jordan. "You've got your speed and you've got to go your speed. If you're really good, you don't spend too much time getting focused on anybody else."
With the narrow miss at the Easterns fresh in their minds, Jordan believes his rowers can reach their full potential this weekend.
"There was a sense of accomplishment but also of disappointment," asserted Jordan. "We have a sense of what we need to do."
If Princeton successfully completes its project this weekend, there will be a special sense of accomplishment.