Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 22
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
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PULLING NO PUNCHES: Princeton University men’s lightweight rowing star Jack Leonard, second from right, shows his determination as he pulls through a recent training session on Lake Carnegie. Senior captain Leonard was recognized for his accomplishments last week when he was named as one of the recipients of the William Winston Roper Trophy, the top award given to Princeton senior male athletes. This weekend, Leonard will look to end his college career on a high note as the Tiger lightweights compete in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta at Cooper River near Cherry Hill, looking for their second straight crown.

Senior Star Leonard Primed to Give His All As PU Men’s Lightweights Seek 2nd IRA Title

Bill Alden

For Jack Leonard, a pivotal stretch of his career on the Princeton University men’s lightweight crew team took place indoors rather than on the water.

After working his way onto the first varsity boat during the fall of his sophomore season in 2007, Leonard had to prove that he belonged during winter training which features torturous workouts on the ergometer indoor rowing machine.

“The winter workouts are the toughest part of the season, a lot of the selection is done then based on who is the fittest and who isn’t,” said Leonard.

“I had support of the older guys, they said ‘we want you on the boat but you need to hit those ERG scores.’ I worked really hard and pulled the final ERG score I needed.”

Leonard justified the confidence of those teammates as he has helped pull the lightweight first varsity eight to some of the most glorious moments in program history.

In the spring of 2009, Leonard helped the boat go undefeated as it won the the Eastern Sprints and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) titles and took the Temple Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in London.

This spring, Leonard has served as the team captain and starred again in the seventh seat as the Tigers lost just once in the regular season before avenging that defeat to Harvard by winning the Eastern Sprints.

This weekend, Leonard has one hard pull left as he competes with the Tigers in the IRA national championship regatta at Cooper River near Cherry Hill.

“I won’t be rowing after college so it is my last race,” said Leonard, who received a high honor last Friday as he was named as one of the recipients of the William Winston Roper Trophy, the top award given to Princeton senior male athletes.

“It makes it easy to give everything I have. It is bittersweet but you have to take every race the same way.”

Leonard has been giving it his all since he took up rowing as a freshman at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia.

“When I entered high school, my older brother had been a coxswain and a rower so I tried it out and made the freshman team,” recalled Leonard.

“It got me in great shape. That really changed everything for me to be in that kind of shape and have that kind of fitness.”

For Leonard, joining the Princeton crew program was a natural extension of his St. Joseph’s experience.

“The best guys on the team would talk about what colleges they were being recruited by,” said Leonard.

“I looked up to them; they were going to schools like Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia and a lot of the younger guys on the team aspired to that. I looked at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. I picked Princeton because of the group of guys. They got along and they respected each other. I liked the team dynamics.”

The 2009 top varsity lightweight boat earned the respect of the rowing world with its dynamic campaign.

“We definitely had a bad taste in our mouths from the year before; Cornell had beaten us up,” said Leonard.

“It was a matter of going out to race your hardest and race everyone into the ground. You could feel the speed in our boat. We had high hopes. We were faster than we had been the year before and all the guys really wanted it. It was a very gradual thing. We knew Harvard was fast and when we won H-Y-P, there was a sense that we had something special.

For Leonard, the highlight of the 2009 season came in the Eastern Sprints. “In the last 200-300 yards at the course at Worcester, the shore opens up and there is a beach area where the spectators gather,” said Leonard. “There was this din of cheering and I was thinking that all I have to do is keep myself rowing and I am a champion.”

In Leonard’s view, last spring’s championship campaign didn’t hang over the boat this spring.

“I don’t think there was pressure for the guys who had been in the boat last year; there was a really good feeling, realizing that something like that was not impossible,” said Leonard.

“The guys coming into the boat felt some pressure but so many guys had watched our success and they wanted to be on the boat.”

The lightweight rowers did have an uneasy feeling when head coach Greg Hughes stepped down to take over the Tiger men’s heavyweights and was replaced by former heavyweight assistant coach Marty Crotty.

“It was hard to lose a coach after a season like that; we really developed trust in Greg,” said Leonard.

“We said Marty is a good coach and we are going to put our trust in him and see where he takes us. In a couple of weeks, we realized how much he wanted to win and the trust was there.”

As team captain, Leonard played a vital role in Crotty’s transition. “It was a learning experience for both Marty and me,” said Leonard. “I could help him ease into things and he asked me for feedback. He didn’t put any pressure on me; he made it clear he was in charge.”

In an interview with the Princeton sports website, Crotty made it clear how much he appreciates Leonard’s leadership and work ethic.

“Jack is very mature; he is always going to give me what’s really on his mind,” said Crotty.

“Athletically as well as a captain, it is important to have somebody who is very consistent and who you can rely on performance-wise. Jack is certainly that. I can’t recall one time where Jack has disappointed my expectations or underperformed. He is an impressive kid.”

In reflecting on the 2010 regular season, Leonard acknowledges that the Tigers weren’t ready to match Harvard’s performance at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton regatta in a race that saw the Crimson edge Princeton by less than a second.

“We knew they were fast but we were not ready for them to put it out like that,” said Leonard of the loss which snapped Princeton’s 20-regatta winning streak. “In the last 600 meters, they took it to us so kudos to them. It was good motivation for the Eastern Sprints.”

Fueled by that setback, Princeton turned the tables on Harvard at the Easterns, winning the grand final and beating the Crimson by 2.3 seconds.

“We needed to pick up every bit of speed that we could and go out and do the same thing,” said Leonard, assessing the boat’s performance.

“Our race plan is pretty much the same, it was more of a mental thing. I told the guys to watch the tape of H-Y-P and think about when they made their moves. I think its the best race we had all season, the guys were really intense.”

As Leonard wraps up his rowing career this weekend, he believes the intense effort he put into the sport will pay dividends down the road.

“I think I understand where a champion comes from; it doesn’t come rowing your best race at Easterns; everybody does that,” said Leonard, an English major who will be working in advertising after graduation.

“It comes from the days in the winter, fall, and spring when you put everything into it and there is no end in sight for months. A big part of it is being on the team. I am doing it for them and they are doing it for me. It lets you do that kind of work.”

Reaching this understanding during the winter of his sophomore year helped Leonard develop into one of the top champions in program history.

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