Paul Rassam knew that his Princeton University women’s lightweight crew was going to hit some choppy water last spring.
“I think some coaches are afraid to use the word rebuilding but that is where we were at last year,” said Princeton head coach Rassam. “We had a great season in 2011 and then we took our lumps last year.”
It became clear early this spring that Rassam’s rowers had been steeled by last year’s struggles. “Things started really promisingly,” said Rassam.
“We handled Wisconsin easily, I think part of that was because they hadn’t been on the water as much as we had. What was even more promising is when we went out to San Diego and had two hard-fought races with Stanford [defending national champion]. That gave us confidence that the rebuilding had paid off and we had arrived back to where we want to be.”
Last Sunday, Princeton built some more confidence as its varsity 8 placed second in the Eastern Sprints on Cooper River in Camden, posting a time of 7:26.0 with top-ranked Radcliffe winning the title in 7:17.8.
“It was a step in the right direction from the race in Boston,” said Rassam, referring to Invitational Lightweight Cup held on the Charles River on April 21 which saw it place third in 7:17.5 with Radcliffe first in 7:05.7 and Stanford second at 7:11.1.
“We were in lane four and there was a strong crosswind. To weather that and to stick with Radcliffe much longer than in Boston was great. We think we can get even closer.”
Rassam credits his group of seniors with playing a major role in getting the program back up to speed.
“We have a senior class of five that has been amazing for us,” maintained Rassam of the class which includes Christy Kaelin, Alex Morss, Olivia Panaccio Tresham, Alexa Powers, and Madigan Stanley. “They are different, some are quite vocal and others are quiet and steady.”
Senior co-captain and U.S. U-23 rower Morss sets the tone around the boathouse.
“It would be a mistake to think that she is just a phenomenal athlete and that is why she is successful,” said Rassam of Morss.
“That is only a piece of it. She is a very hard worker; she loves to train. She enjoys pushing herself. We have a lot of underclassmen. They are talented but they are still underclassmen. They need to see the next level of commitment.”
With Princeton next in action when it competes in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championships on June 1 in Sacramento, Calif., Rassam is looking for a high level of commitment over the next few weeks.
“The Sprints are earlier than usual and we have a whole month to prepare for the IRAs,” said Rassam.
“We usually just have two weeks between Sprints and IRAs. We have time to make changes. We want to improve everything and keep the upward trajectory. We need to be faster out of the blocks and get in an early rhythm. We need to be settling harder in the first 30 or 40 strokes.”
In Rassam’s view, his rowers are poised to keep up their progress. “In other years, we were going well early and we had to hold on to that,” said Rassam.
“In 2011, we had such an experienced crew, it was holding your breath that they would maintain their speed. Each week this season, we are getting better and better. Our best is coming in a month, everything points in that direction.”