Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 26
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
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CARDINAL PRINCIPLES: Madeline Davis powers the boat from the stroke seat in 2009 during her final season with the Princeton University women’s lightweight program. Davis, who also rowed for the U.S. in the World Rowing Under 23 Championships, coached crew for a year at the Hun School before landing a job last fall as an assistant coach for the Stanford University women’s lightweight program. Earlier this month, she helped the Cardinal first varsity eight repeat as Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national champions.

Taking Lessons from Rowing at PU, Coaching at Hun, Davis Helped Stanford Women’s Lightweights to Title

Bill Alden

Over the past three years, Madeline Davis been riding a wave of success in the world of rowing.

In the spring of 2009, Davis wrapped up a stellar career with the Princeton University women’s lightweight program by helping the Tigers take silver at the Eastern Sprints. That summer, she rowed at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Racice, Czech Republic.

Months later, she went across town to coach crew at the Hun School. In the spring of 2010, she guided the Hun women’s 4+ to an undefeated dual season and its first berth in the USRowing Youth National championships in nearly a decade.

Building on that success, Davis moved to the college ranks last fall where she took a post as an assistant coach for the Stanford University women’s lightweight program. Earlier this month, she helped the Cardinal first varsity eight repeat as Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national champions.

In reflecting on her whirlwind tour, Davis believes she has benefitted from each stop.

“I have been at great rowing programs at Princeton, Hun, and now at Stanford,” said Davis.

“They were three different programs with different styles. There is not one way to do things. I am applying things I have learned from each program.”

For Davis, her year coaching at Hun was a special learning experience.

“I was really fortunate to come into a program with a good group of rowers and a good staff,” said Davis, who also worked in the school’s residential life office.

“The girls were interested in being successful and wanted to work. They were self-motivated, they just needed someone to direct and guide them.”

While it took Davis a little while to get up to speed, she soon realized that she was well suited to her new role.

“It was somewhat of a unique situation; it was my first heavy coaching gig and I was a newcomer,” said Davis.

“I didn’t have time to get my legs under me. I not only had to learn how to coach effectively, I had to learn how to manage the program. I fell in love with coaching; I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.”

Davis’ passion for coaching led her to head west and make a quick move up the coaching ladder.

“When the Stanford opportunity presented itself, it was a no brainer,” said Davis. “I wanted to get into coaching on a really full-time basis. Stanford was the defending national champ and moving to California was a new challenge. It is the best athletic department in the country with the highest athletic and highest academic standards.”

Davis’ Princeton background helped her readily connect with her new charges.

“They are like the girls I rowed with at Princeton,” said Davis, a West Chester, Pa. native who was a team captain and All-American at stroke in her final campaign with the Tigers.

“While I don’t know what it is like to be a student at Stanford, I do know what it is like to be a student at one of the best academic institutions in the country and train really hard at the same time.”

In making the adjustment to Stanford, Davis had utilized what she has learned from Cardinal head coach Al Acosta as well as Tiger head coach Paul Rassam.

“Al has been the national lightweight coach of the year three of the last four years,” said Davis.

“He has been at Stanford for 10 years and he built the program. He is the one and only head coach for the program and he knows it inside out. He has a wealth of knowledge and I went out of my way to ask him a lot of questions at the beginning. I also apply things I learned from Paul everyday.”

Despite an early season defeat to the Princeton first varsity, Davis didn’t question her rowers’ potential to do big things this spring. “We took it in stride; it is a really mature boat, they knew it was who crossed the finish line first at the end that mattered,” said Davis, reflecting on the loss which saw the Stanford top eight finish more than 11 seconds behind its Princeton counterpart.

“We hadn’t gotten down to our serious 2k training yet. That was an opportunity to see our competition and where we stood.”

As the spring went on, the Cardinal varsity eight got seriously good.

“We had pretty gradual improvement,” added Davis.

“It was a weird year, we had more injury and illness than we usually have at Stanford. It took a while to get into the groove; we saw the boat coming together. We came into the IRAs strong and confident. We had speed but we were the underdog. We had won the title but everyone was watching Princeton.”

In the IRA grand final, Davis had mixed emotions as she watched Stanford first varsity hold off the Tigers for the title.

“I knew we had the speed to push out but it got close at the end,” recalled Davis of the race which saw the Cardinal boat clock a time of 6:32.39 over the 2.000-meter course on Cooper River in Cherry Hill, edging out Princeton by 0.68 of a second.

“They kept fighting, hats off to them. Your alma mater is your alma mater and I rowed with some of the girls in that boat but I am so fully committed and invested in Stanford. I had faith and confidence in our rowers and I wanted to see the team do it.”

Davis gained some confidence from taking a major role in helping the varsity four take second in its grand final.

“They had been fifth the year before and they moved up to silver this year,” said Davis.

“I worked with them a lot the last two weeks of the season. We split up the second varsity eight and we had five girls who got along really well. They were a dedicated, motivated, and self-sufficient group of rowers. It was a really tough race, they had to walk through third place to get second. It was a very disciplined and determined group of rowers.”

After the success Davis has experienced in her two years of coaching, she is determined to further hone her skills.

“I am planning to do this for the foreseeable future; it is a rewarding experience and a career path,” said Davis.

“I have something to offer; I bring something to the table. I feel well suited for this. I am getting more comfortable dealing with the stress of big races. You get that from being around it more. I am more confident in my rowers and my ability to convey absolute faith in them.”

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