Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 21
 
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
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ROLLING STONE: Princeton University women's open crew star Gevvie Stone shows her joy after Princeton won the grand final at the 2006 NCAA Championships. Stone, a senior, has provided key leadership as the Tigers have made steady progress this spring. After starting the season with losses to Ohio State and Brown, Princeton recently placed third at the Eastern Sprints and is currently ranked ninth nationally.

PU Women's Open Crew in Underdog Role as It Heads South to Defend NCAA Title

Bill Alden

A year ago, the Princeton University women's open crew roared into the NCAA championships as a clear favorite to win the grand final.

The senior-laden Tigers brought an undefeated record and No. 1 ranking into the regatta at nearby Lake Mercer.

Fuelled by the memory of having finished second in the 2005 NCAAs and buoyed by a home crowd, the Tigers lived up to their advance billing as they flew over the course to post a six-second win over Cal to establish themselves as a boat for the ages.

As this year's crew heads to the 2007 NCAA Championships at Oak Ridge, Tenn. later this week, they will do so with a lot less fanfare.

The Tigers, who started the season by losing to Brown and Ohio State, have had to fight to get up to their current No. 9 ranking.

Princeton head coach Lori Dauphiny likes her boat's unheralded position as it heads to Tennessee. "I think it is fun to be the underdog," said Dauphiny. "We're not off the radar because we are the defending national champions but we don't have a big target on our backs. It will be fun to go there and just try to give our best performance."

Dauphiny acknowledges that it has been a bit of a bumpy road as the program has worked new faces into its lineup. "I think we have developed through the season," said Dauphiny.

"We started out against Brown and Ohio State and found our initial speed. We have had lineup changes and have juggled positions within the boat. We have also worked on the middle 1,000 meters of the race."

The top boat has made steady, if not spectacular, progress, aided in large part by the returning stars from last year's stellar boat. "Each race has been a step forward," explained Dauphiny, citing the efforts of veteran performers Gevvie Stone, Caroline Kruse, and coxswain Lizzie Agnew.

"They have not made great steps but small steps forward. The returning members from last year's boat have really been important. They have changed positions within the boat."

The boat's third place finish at the Eastern Sprints on May 13 is cause for optimism. "We had higher goals but that was one of the most satisfying races of the season," asserted Dauphiny.

"We had lost to Radcliffe earlier in the spring. In the middle of the race at the eastern Sprints we were behind Radcliffe but we were able to go through them. It was a combination of all the things we have been doing, working on the middle 1,000 and the last 30 strokes."

Since that performance, Dauphiny has been working on some fine-tuning. "We're perfecting some things," added Dauphiny, who is in her 11th year at the helm of the Tiger program and was the 2006 Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association National Coach of the Year.

"We're squeezing more speed out of the boat. We're working around the exam schedule and I think they have been showing energy. They seem to like their two hours a day at the boathouse; it's a break from the books."

Dauphiny is happy that her program has never had a break from competing in the NCAA Championships, as the Tigers, Brown, and Washington are the only three programs that have competed in the regatta every year since its inception in 1997. "I'm proud of the program and that achievement," said Dauphiny. They worked hard to get there; that is the goal every year."

Princeton faces a major challenge in just qualifying for the six-boat grand final next Sunday. "To make it to the final, we're going to have to beat a crew that has already beaten us," said Dauphiny. "We did that at the Eastern Sprints so we know we can do that."

Dauphiny knows that her seniors will help their teammates bring out their best effort this weekend in Tennessee. "I wasn't sure what to expect; we lost such a big senior class," said Dauphiny. "I was hoping this year's senior class would demonstrate leadership and they have. It's been a lot of fun to see the seniors help the freshmen and the sophomores."

It will be fun to see how Princeton's relatively callow crew responds to the pressure of the NCAAs. "This team is greener than in the past," said Dauphiny. "It reminds me of the 2004 and 2005 when last year's senior class was on the way up. I think the freshmen and sophomores have great potential, it remains to be seen how far they will go."

This weekend, Princeton's young rowers can take a huge step forward in that process.

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