Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 23
 
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
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GOLDEN STATE: The Princeton University men’s lightweight first varsity boat goes through its paces during a recent workout on Lake Carnegie. Last weekend, the Tigers culminated a perfect season by posting a convincing win in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) championship regatta at Sacramento, Calif. Princeton led the grand final from wire to wire, clocking a time of 6:03.23 over the 2,000-meter course with Yale next at 6:08.00 and Harvard third in 6:09.60.

PU Men’s Lightweights Accomplish Mission, Win IRA Title to Culminate Perfect Season

Bill Alden

As Greg Hughes chilled out last Monday and enjoyed watching the waves lap up on the beach at Diamond Head in Hawaii, he had visions of gold.

Two days earlier, Princeton men’s lightweight crew head coach Hughes saw his top varsity boat post a convincing win in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) championship regatta at Sacramento, Calif. to culminate a perfect season.

Princeton led the grand final from wire to wire, clocking a time of 6:03.23 over the 2,000-meter course with Yale next at 6:08.00 and Harvard third in 6:09.60.

Reflecting on the moment of victory from his father’s condo in Hawaii, the emotions were still near the surface for Hughes.

“I was really proud of the guys; I never had a boat more deserving of winning an IRA title,” asserted Hughes, a former lightweight rowing star at Princeton who is in his fourth season at the helm of the program. “They showed all season that they were the best lightweight boat out there.”

The Tigers showed their mettle as they didn’t lose their edge in the four weeks between winning the Eastern Sprints and competing in the IRA regatta.

“We were able to shift gears from the racing season,” said Hughes.

“We had about a month off from racing and we got to log some hard miles. In the season, you are wrapped up with races week to week and fine-tuning for that. We got out of the eight and into the smaller boats. We rowed some pairs and cox fours. The guys are good competitors and they were banging their heads against each other.”

Princeton’s core of seniors, which included five members of the top boat, were able to block out the distractions that come with commencement festivities.

“Graduation was important for seniors but it wouldn’t mean as much if they slipped up at the end of their rowing careers,” said Hughes, whose seniors included Justin Teti, Tom Paulett, Dave Krueger, Alex Dillon, and cox Dave Cleveland.

“We changed up the schedule that last week and made sure they had time for graduation events and to rest. It was easier to do without classes in session.”

The Tigers made it clear early in the grand final that they had no intention of slipping up, covering the first 500 meters in 1:27.99 with no other boat under 1:30.

“They attacked it right from the start; it wasn’t the race plan but they did it,” said Hughes with a knowing chuckle.

“We have been a good starting crew all season. I thought the other boats might try to take that away from us and we were looking down the course. The start definitely set a tone.”

Princeton kept the pedal to the medal, leading the race by 3.5 seconds at 1,000 meters and then putting together a 1:33:70 split over the next 500 meters to put things out of reach.

“When you get to that point in the season, people are fitter and boats can do damage late in the race,” explained Hughes, who rowed on a 1996 IRA champion that won its grand final by .01 second.

“Just being in front isn’t good enough, you have to be prepared to defend. Last year, we were up by six or seven seats with 350 meters to go and we ended up fourth.”

In assessing how his boat ended up with a perfect season, Hughes said it came down to mindset more than technical brilliance.

“Obviously you need the physical components but other Princeton boats have had that material,” added Hughes.

“It comes down to intangibles like character, attitude, and the way they approached things everyday. You can’t quantify it but these guys had it.”

The disappointment of the near misses last spring helped fuel that fire.

“The experience of last year helped a lot; they were very close in some big races but they came up short,” said Hughes.

“The attitude was upbeat, they were never daunted by the challenges. They didn’t want to get caught up in the details; they wanted to race. They enjoyed the thrill of the challenge and didn’t get nervous about things.

Although the top boat is losing five to graduation, Hughes isn’t nervous about the program’s future.

“The rest of them see what its like to win and the work you need to start with,” said Hughes. “That’s the standard. They want to see if they can be the next boat to do it.”

While Hughes is confident that his returners will give their all, he knows that a season like this spring doesn’t come along too often.

“I feel we were lucky,” said Hughes, noting that this year’s top boat will get the chance to compete for one more title as it rows at the Henley Royal regatta near London in early July.

“I have been in and around boats before that were gifted but things didn’t come together. Things went our way this spring and I was excited to see them take full advantage of things.”

One of the most gratifying aspects of the season was the way the lightweight program’s extended family of alums got caught up in the excitement.

“At least 100 guys have sent me e-mails,” said Hughes. “Guys from the Class of ’59, the captain of the Class of ’57; guys from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. They talk about how the most valuable lessons they learned at Princeton were in the boathouse. The guys this year re-energized a program. It is great to see that happen in a program that I care so much about and where I got my opportunities.”

And Hughes can answer some of those e-mails this week with Diamond Head on the horizon and a grin frozen on his face.

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