Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 22
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
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(Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

GOLD STANDARD: The Princeton University women’s open first varsity crew races to victory in a race earlier this spring. Last Sunday, Princeton completed an historic campaign as it took the gold medal in the grand final at the NCAA Championship regatta in Sacramento, Calif. The win culminated a season that saw the Tigers go undefeated in regular season races and win the Eastern Sprints.

PU’s Top Open Crew Caps Historic Season; Taking Gold Medal at NCAA Championships

Bill Alden

Lori Dauphiny had an uneasy feeling heading into last weekend’s NCAA Championship regatta even though her Princeton University women’s open first varsity crew hadn’t lost a race all spring.

Noting that the top boat had dealt with injuries and some spotty training despite going 13-0 and winning the Eastern Sprints, Tiger head coach Dauphiny said there were some glitches as the rowers prepared for their trip to Sacramento, Calif. and the NCAAs.

“I have to honestly say I wasn’t sure if we were gaining speed,” said Dauphiny, who is her 15th season at the helm of the Tiger open program and guided the 2006 top boat to an undefeated season and victory in the NCAA grand final.

“Michaela Strand [senior captain] was injured and had to take a couple of days off; one of the second varsity girls stepped up and did a great job. We also had exams in there. We did have a good row on a longer piece the night before we left.”

Once out in California, the Tigers experienced another hiccup in their first workout last Wednesday on the course at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in Gold River.

“We had a rough row, a shaky practice,” said Dauphiny. “We got that out of our system; I think it was due to the travel.”

Righting themselves, the Tigers proceeded to make it a trip to remember as they ran through the competition to earn gold in the grand final on Sunday.

Princeton took fourth in the team standings at the competition as the second varsity eight and the varsity four both ended up placing third in their petite finals, or ninth overall. Brown won the team championship with Stanford taking second and California in third.

While it may not look like it on paper, things didn’t come easy for Princeton’s top boat.

“I knew it would be intense and that it would be a tough battle,” said Dauphiny, whose top boat posted a time of 6:27.12 over the 2,000-meter course in the championship race, some 1.5 seconds faster than runner-up Brown. “We knew the other boats would be fast but we didn’t know how fast.”

The Tigers got a sense of how fast the competition could go when they placed second in their semifinal heat, 1.84 seconds behind USC.

“We are not always sure how to approach the semis, it is tricky,” explained Dauphiny. “Do you blast it out or save something; you have some time to rest before grand final but is it enough. We raced hard but we didn’t sprint at the end. We wanted to get one of the top two spots and we did that.”

As the top boat looked ahead to the grand final, it focused on the approach that has brought it so much success this spring. “Every time you go to championships, you know it is going to be a close race,” said Dauphiny.

“We focus on the race plan we know. The kids are very internal but they also respond to what happens in the race.”

Halfway through the race, it looked like Princeton might be in trouble. “It was a really intense race; we had a lead at 500,” recalled Dauphiny, whose top boat included coxswain Lila Flavin together with Lauren Wilkinson, Kelsey Reelick, Emily Reynolds, Heidi Robbins, Kelly Pierce, Molly Hamrick, Ashton Brown, and Strand.

“It was only a seat but it was a lead. It didn’t provide comfort. We were overtaken by Cal at 1,000. Brown was right there and Stanford was in the pack. It was tight across the front.”

Responding with aplomb, the Tigers regained the lead from Cal and never came back to the pack.

“The cox saw Cal go ahead; after that we made a move and a concerted effort,” said Dauphiny.

“We got a seat back and took the lead. I think that was a confidence builder. It was so tight that I didn’t know the result until the bow crossed the line.”

While the second varsity eight and varsity four didn’t get the results they wanted, Dauphiny credited them with helping to strengthen the top boat.

“The second varsity had a great race in the semis; they did everything they could and missed sixth by .04, it was a photo finish,” said Dauphiny.

“That put them in a tougher position for the petite final but they stayed courageous. It was close; they were disappointed because they had had such an awesome regular season, going undefeated and then winning the Easterns. They fell short of their expectations. It was their hard work that helped the first varsity do so well. They used each other to get stronger. The varsity four also did a great job. With these big schools that give all these scholarships, it is more challenging for us the deeper you go on the team. They fought with great heart.”

It was a heartfelt moment for Dauphiny when all her rowers were honored at the post-race ceremony.

“I was really happy that we cracked the top four; they only recognized the top four on the medal stand and I wanted every one of them to be up there,” said Dauphiny.

“I am so proud of how everyone did; it was a real team effort with the coaching staff and all of the rowers.”

But it was the effort of the top varsity boat that stood above the rest. “It was a very determined group,” said Dauphiny of her first varsity.

“They didn’t lose any races during the season but they had rough points with injuries and inconsistent training. They handled challenges with determination.”

By successfully handling its final challenge, that group has put itself in the pantheon of great Princeton crews.

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