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Vol. LXIII, No. 21
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
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BIG SHOT: Princeton University women’s open crew junior star Sara Hendershot pulls hard in the stroke seat in a recent training session on Lake Carnegie. After finishing third at the Eastern Sprints earlier this month, Hendershot and her teammates are primed for a big performance this weekend as they compete in the NCAA championship regatta at Cooper River near Camden.

Sparked by Hendershot’s Intensity at Stroke, PU Women’s Open Crew Primed for NCAAs

Bill Alden

It was a heart-to-heart talk that changed the course of Sara Hendershot’s rowing career.

After a frustrating 2008 season which saw Hendershot and the Princeton University women’s first varsity open crew finish fourth in the Eastern Sprints and then fail to make the NCAA grand final, she sought the advice of Tiger head coach Lori Dauphiny.

“I was sitting with Lori in the airport and I said I want something different,” recalled Hendershot.

“She said I had to get in better shape and get stronger. I worked hard all summer. I created a weight circuit routine that helped my strength. I ran a lot and did leg lifting. I worked hard on the ERG in the last month of the summer.”

When Hendershot arrived at Princeton this past fall for her junior season, she was a different athlete.

“Increased strength has an impact, it changes the way you row,” said Hendershot. “I was in the seven seat for the fall and then in winter training Lori moved me to the stroke.”

With Hendershot setting the pace from the stroke position, Princeton went 8-2 over the regular season and placed third at this year’s Eastern Sprints.

This weekend, Hendershot and her teammates will be looking for another medal as they compete in the NCAA championships on Cooper River near Camden.

It was Hendershot’s inner strength, though, that helped Princeton make the medal stand at the Eastern Sprints as it was narrowly edged by champion Yale and runner-up Harvard-Radcliffe.

“At 1500 meters, there were five boats fighting for the medals,” said Hendershot.

“I have really learned to stay calm and confident when people are pushing you. I thought this is our shot. Even though we didn’t get gold, we were really close to Radcliffe and we gave Yale a scare. I think it means a lot to get a medal. Fourth is the worst place, you know you are close but you don’t end up with a medal.”

In Hendershot’s view, coming close last season fueled the top boat’s motivation on a daily basis this spring.

“I think this year feels a lot different than last year,” maintained Hendershot.

“Last year, we did well in season and we thought it would carry over into the Easterns and the NCAAs but we weren’t getting faster. We talked about it everyday this year, working on continuously improving.”

Hendershot has improved a lot in rowing since she started the sport in her freshman year of high school at the urging of her parents.

“I had played soccer and done swimming, I wanted to play lacrosse when I got to high school,” said Hendershot, who rowed for West Simsbury High (Ct.). “My parents pushed me into rowing because I was so tall.”

While Hendershot may not have taken up rowing voluntarily, she immediately took to the sport.

“From the first day, I loved it,” said Hendershot. “I loved the intensity and all the technical aspects of the sport and the boat. There were not a ton of public high school crew programs in Connecticut. I was lucky that Simsbury had a good program and that I was able to row for the junior national program.”

Hendershot liked the intensity she found when she joined the Princeton program in the fall of 2006.

“I had only rowed in the spring in high school and in college, it was year round training,” said Hendershot, who moved up to the first varsity boat late in her freshman year for the Eastern Sprints and the NCAAs.

“I had never done winter training and that ERG work. The volume and intensity really picked up. It was exciting; everyone was into it. The camaraderie is great with everybody working toward one goal.”

As Hendershot and her boatmates get ready for the NCAAs, they are working together with a heightened focus.

“When we shove off the deck, we want to be sharp from the first stroke and really focus,” added Hendershot.

“Cooper River feels like our home course; that should really help. We have had four races there with Metro Cup and Easterns.”

Hendershot likes the boat’s prospects for this week and beyond. “I think we are faster; our first goal is to make a grand final and then fight for a medal,” said Hendershot, who will serve as a team co-captain next season along with cox Ariel Frost and hopes to row in the U.S. Under-23 program after graduation next June.

“The team has come together and we have a lot of young rowers. I am excited for next week and for next year. I think we can do some really big things.”

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