Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 22
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
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BRILLIANT STROKE: Princeton University women’s lightweight rowing star Madeline Davis pulls through a training session last month on Lake Carnegie. Senior co-captain and stroke Davis is looking to end her career on a high note this weekend when the Tigers head west to Sacramento, Calif. to compete in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) championship regatta.

Experiencing Rollercoaster PU Crew Career, Davis Aims to End on High Note at IRA Regatta

Bill Alden

Madeline Davis has traveled a rollercoaster ride in her career with the Princeton University women’s lightweight program.

As a freshman, Davis moved quickly up the ranks, going from the freshman eight to the second varsity and ending the season rowing for the top boat in the championship regattas.

The next year, Davis was demoted to the second varsity and spent the season honing her skills.

In her junior campaign, Davis returned to the first varsity and helped the boat go undefeated in the regular season. But the spring ended on a down note as the Tigers took fifth at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) championship regatta.

This season, co-captain Davis has been a driving force as the Tigers put together a superb regular season and placed second in the Eastern Sprints.

Davis will be looking to end her career on a high as the Tigers head west to Sacramento, Calif. this weekend to compete in the IRA championship regatta.

For Davis, rolling with the punches over the last four years has influenced her leadership style.

“I try to be quiet but passionate,” said Davis, who rows on the boat’s stroke seat.

“We have a young boat and we are going to be racing side-by-side with boats like Wisconsin and Radcliffe. The last thing they need to see is the veteran rowers worked up and frazzled. Ally [coxswain and co-captain Alyx Cullen] and I have seen this before, we need to stay calm.”

In reflecting on her Princeton rowing career, Davis admits that she was frazzled upon getting moved up to first varsity as a freshman.

“I was so scared and awed to be on the first varsity,” said Davis, a native of West Chester, Pa. who took up rowing in her freshman year of high school.

“The only thing I was thinking was to not mess up. I hadn’t been training with them and I didn’t know a lot of them.”

In retrospect, Davis knows that it was a good thing for her to row with the second varsity as a sophomore.

“I appreciated the opportunity to work on my technique and rowing without the pressure of being on the first varsity,” said Davis.

“The program’s profile depends on the first varsity and that is what everyone is looking at.”

By her junior year, Davis was ready for the pressure of racing for the first varsity boat.

Rowing from the vital stroke position, Davis helped the boat go undefeated in the regular season. The Tigers, though, didn’t perform up to expectations in the post-season, finishing second at the Eastern Sprints and fading to fifth at the IRA grand final.

Davis said the program learned a key lesson from last season’s disappointing finish.

“I think last year compared to this year, we learned that you don’t have to go your fastest right from the start,” said Davis.

“We start by racing Wisconsin and Stanford but the real race is the IRAs. We have a long time to build up speed. It is more important to be focused on the long term. We have progressively gotten better.”

Even though Princeton finished second to perennial national power Wisconsin at the Eastern Sprints last month, Davis believed the boat made progress.

“It would have been easy to say that we are going to stop fighting when we saw that Wisconsin was going to get the gold,” said Davis

“Radcliffe and Georgetown wouldn’t let us do that. They raced very hard. We were right between them and we stuck to our guns. It was tight every which way.”

In the weeks since that race, the Tigers have focused on becoming even tighter on the water.

“We have shown that we have a good base of endurance,” added Davis, noting that the boat has benefitted from competing against the men’s lightweights in spirited training sessions.

“There are points where we need fine-tuning. We need to work on our start and our moves during a race. I feel we have made progress.”

Davis is hoping that fine-tuning results in some memorable racing at the IRA regatta.

“I think our best race is yet to come; it would mean everything to win,” said Davis.

“It would be the ideal ending; it would complete the circle. We are capable of winning but it would take our best race.”

But even if Davis doesn’t get that happy ending, battling through the ups and downs of her rowing career has taught her some life lessons that will serve her well in life after Princeton.

“I have ended up getting more out of rowing than I thought I would get,” asserted Davis, who plans to compete with the U.S. Under-23 national program after a brief break this summer.

“I think I have learned that to really get anything out of rowing, you have to put all your chips in. Even if you don’t win, you can feel good about being serious and going all the way to do something. You have fun through the process where you changed your mindset and your body.”

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