Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 24
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
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GUT CHECK: Members of the Princeton University men’s lightweight varsity boat go through a recent training session on Lake Carnegie. Last Saturday, the Tigers set the tone in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) grand final, leading the race for the first 1,500 meters. The Tigers ended up finishing a close fourth as Cornell won its third straight IRA title.

Despite Battling Hard at IRA Championships, Tiger Rowers Come Up Short in Medal Chase

Bill Alden

Coming into the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta last weekend, the Princeton University men’s heavyweight and men’s lightweight crews both decided to do a little bit of tinkering.

The heavyweight boat made a lineup change for the competition on the Cooper River in Camden while their lightweight counterparts opted for a more aggressive tactical approach.

The changes made by the heavyweight boat didn’t yield any dividends as the Tigers didn’t make the IRA grand final and ended up taking fourth in the petite final.

The lightweights, on the other hand, set the tone in the grand final, leading the race with 350 meters to go but faded to a close fourth as Cornell took its third straight IRA title.

Heavyweight head coach Curtis Jordan was optimistic coming into the competition. “We felt like our training was good; I thought we were in pretty good shape,” said Jordan.

“We had a lineup change that seemed to be working well. We hadn’t tested it in the heat of battle and it turned out that the change wasn’t as good as the original lineup.”

Princeton took third in its first heat and then struggled in the semis, posting a disappointing fifth place.

“We were behind the eight-ball after the first heat and we couldn’t get our heads above water after that,” said Jordan, whose boat had taken third at the Eastern Sprints grand final in mid-May.

“In the semis, we focused on Brown and they joined us in not qualifying. It shows how tough the field was. It was one of those days where to be in the final, you had to be really consistent. To medal, you had to be excellent consistently.”

Jordan acknowledged that his varsity lacked consistency at various points this spring.

“This crew was a really good one but when they had opportunity to underperform, they did,” said Jordan. “They had to be on to do well.”

It was tough for Jordan to see his seniors go out on a down note. “It’s always really hard when they leave,” said Jordan, who in his 18th year guiding the Princeton heavyweight program.

“Glenn Ochal was on the varsity for three years; he was a sophomore on a really good boat. I wanted them to walk away with a ‘yeah I did it’ feeling after all that hard work. In 2006, it was terrible to finish second; this year we would have been happy with that. Underperforming expectations leaves a sour taste.”

With a solid group of underclassmen set to return, Jordan is hoping that his rowers will have a good taste in their mouths at the end of next season.

“They have learned lessons,” said Jordan. “I am not sure how they will respond; each year is different and has its own challenges. We had a good freshman class with four or five really good guys. The guys that were sophomores this year can step into some big shoes if they move forward. A lot of it depends on their impetus.”

For lightweight head coach Greg Hughes, the impetus to adopt a more aggressive strategy resulted from his desire to see his seniors go out on a high note.

“They had won silver and bronze in championship races and they wanted to go for gold,” said Hughes, who is in his third year guiding the Princeton men’s lightweight program. “We made a decision to throw it all out there; we wanted to set the tone and make it a pure guts race.”

Princeton showed plenty of guts as it led throughout the first 1,000 meters of the race and then fended off a Cornell move to maintain a six-seat lead with 500 meters to go. The Big Red made one last charge and was able to just edge past the Tiger boat.

Cornell ended up covering the 2,000-meter course in 5:39.194 with Navy in second at 5:40.782, Yale third at 5:41.203, and Princeton fourth in a time of 5:41.948.

While Hughes didn’t get the result he wanted, he had no qualms about how his rowers responded.

“I was very pleased with the guys,” said Hughes, whose top boat had taken second at the Eastern Sprints in mid-May. “It says something about them that they could go out in a national championship race and set the tone. Hats off to Cornell; they defended two big pushes and were able to come back.”

For Hughes, it will be painful to not have his group of seniors back.

“I hate to see the seniors leave without a win in one of the championship races; these guys moved up to the varsity when I came in as the head coach,” said Hughes, who pointed to Taylor Washburn, Solon Aphosian, and coxswain Sarah Sherman as his key seniors.

“They were an important part of my development as a head coach and achieving our goal to get back as a championship caliber program. It’s going to be tough for me to come back next year and not have those kids with me, they were special.”

In Hughes’ view, his returning rowers have the potential to do some special things.

“We have 12 returning athletes in our first or second boats,” added Hughes.

“We had a very solid class of freshmen and there are some good ones coming in. We have to put in a lot of hard work between now and next spring. I think we have the right horses. They know what its like to go out there and go for it. They know how hard it is to win at this level.”

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