Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 21
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
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(Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

POWER STROKE: Princeton University women’s open crew star Lauren Wilkinson competes in a race this spring. Senior stroke Wilkinson has helped the top-ranked Princeton first varsity eight go undefeated and win the Eastern Sprints this season. This weekend, the Tigers will look to run the table as they compete in the NCAA championship regatta at Sacramento, Calif.

Senior Star Wilkinson Striving for Perfection As No. 1 PU Open Crew Competes in NCAAs

Bill Alden

Lauren Wilkinson isn’t easily satisfied when it comes to her rowing.

Last spring, Wilkinson helped the Princeton University women’s open crew first varsity eight go undefeated in the regular season before taking second at the Eastern Sprints and third at the grand final at the NCAA championships but she wasn’t happy.

“It was tough, no bones about it,” said Wilkinson, reflecting on falling just short of the two coveted titles.

That disappointment spurred an extra hunger for Wilkinson and her returning teammates as they came back for the 2010-11 school year.

“I think every single person who had been on the boat and is back felt a sense of unfinished business,” said Wilkinson, a senior stroke who hails from Vancouver, British Columbia.

“It was cool to have people who experienced that together and didn’t want it to happen again and were willing to do everything possible to make sure it wouldn’t.”

So far this spring, the top-ranked Tigers have won everything they could, going undefeated again in regular season regattas and then placing first at the Eastern Sprints on May 15.

This weekend, Wilkinson and her teammates will look to run the table as they compete in the NCAA championship regatta at Sacramento, Calif.

True to form, Wilkinson wasn’t entirely pleased by how the Tigers rowed in the Eastern Sprints at Cooper River in Cherry Hill.

“I honestly don’t think we rowed to our potential,” said Wilkinson, reflecting on the grand final that saw Princeton top runner-up Brown by more than four seconds.

“We approach each race the same, it doesn’t matter who we are going against. We work on what we need to do to row our best. We did execute and we did what we needed to do to win the race. It was incredible.”

It has been an incredible journey for Wilkinson since she took up rowing after tagging along with her older brothers at the Burnaby Lake Rowing Club near Vancouver.

“I started rowing around 10 years ago; my brothers rowed and I was always watching,” recalled Wilkinson.

“I wanted to try it. I actually liked it right away. I was just having fun, rowing in a single and seeing a lot of lily pads.”

Within a few years, Wilkinson had advanced to the Canadian national program.

“I got involved with the Canada team in 11th and 12th grade; I was on the U-19 junior national team,” said Wilkinson, who starred this past summer for Canada’s U-23 program, helping the women’s eight to bronze in the World Rowing U-23 World Championships in Brest, Belarus and earning gold medals in women’s pairs and women’s quads at the Commonwealth Rowing Championships in Welland, Ontario.

“I had never swept before, I had been more of a sculler. Any opportunity for international rowing is great. You are training right next to world caliber athletes; it is a lot of fun to be around a lot of fast girls like that.”

Following in the footsteps of other Canadian rowers, Wilkinson decided to come to the U.S. to do college crew and chose Princeton after considering Harvard, Yale, and the University of Virginia.

Upon arriving at Princeton in 2007, it didn’t take long for Wilkinson to bond with some of the fast girls in the Tiger crew program.

“When I was rowing at Burnaby, you came down to the boathouse when you wanted to; you had to be self-motivated,” said Wilkinson. “Being at Princeton, there was a big group of girls who wanted to go fast. It was fun to work with them.”

Wilkinson gained a lot her freshman year from working with then-senior star and current Tiger assistant coach Kristin Haraldsdottir.

“Kristin was my inspiration and role model,” said Wilkinson. “She was very fast and very tough. Even though she is only four years older than me, there seemed to be a bigger gap. It has come full circle with her as my coach.”

The Tigers know they will have to be tough if they are to prevail this weekend at the NCAA championship regatta.

“We need to regain our focus, we are extremely happy about how we did in the Easterns,” said Wilkinson, who is one of four seniors in the boat along with captain Michaela Strand, Emily Reynolds, and Ashton Brown.

“But we know we have to buckle down and that it is a stepping stone to the NCAAs. We still have more speed and still more work to do on what can we do to get faster. We have to have an internal focus; we can’t be thinking about the other boats.”

Whether or not the Tigers come through out in California, Wilkinson is more than satisfied with her Princeton experience.

“It has definitely made me a better athlete with the training and coaching,” said Wilkinson, an ecology and evolutionary biology major who plans to train with the Canadian national team after graduation with an eye on the 2012 summer Olympics and then eventually get into veterinary studies.

“I have made friends that I will have the rest of my life; that is a huge part of this. I was talking to my parents recently and I told them that Princeton has been the perfect fit for me.”

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