Last year, the Princeton University men’s heavyweight crew first varsity 8 just missed out on making the grand final at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) regatta.
The Tigers fell to Syracuse by less that a second for a place in the national championship race as they took fourth in the semis.
At the 2013 IRAs, the Tigers found themselves in a similar spot as they battled Stanford in the semis for third place and the last spot in the grand final.
Learning from last year’s disappointment, Princeton roared past the Cardinals in the last 500 meters and secured third by more than four seconds.
Princeton head coach Greg Hughes was proud of how his top boat responded when the chips were down.
“The semis at the IRAs are some of the most exciting racing at any level of rowing; there are nine or 10 boats fast enough to make the finals and only six spots,” said Hughes.
“We knew we were going to have a real race on our hands and we prepared for that kind of race. Both semis were tough; we were going against some of the Pac 12 boats. They knew each other. Our guys had never raced against them and were excited to test themselves. They rose to the occasion of the race. They really had a gutsy race.”
The Tiger second varsity 8 also took care of business in its semifinal, taking second in a tight race that saw the four top boats separated by 3.06 seconds.
“The 2V was in a really tight race and boats were close the whole way,” said Hughes.
“They were able to keep their spot. You learn a lot in those kind of races, going forward is a great experience.”
While Princeton’s top boats didn’t have the greatest races in the grand finals, they gained some valuable experience. The Tiger first varsity placed sixth while the second varsity finished fourth, missing bronze by 0.21 and silver by 0.83.
As for the first varsity, Hughes liked the way it competed. “Each race is different; we had a sense of how we could race against frontrunners,” said Hughes. “It didn’t play out that way. They rowed a tough, hard piece.”
The second varsity, for its part, left it all on the water. “The 2V had their best piece of the year,” said Hughes. “There were faster boats than us in the race. I wish they had been two tenths of a second faster and got a medal but I have no regrets and neither did they. They really executed everything they tried.”
In Hughes’ view, the execution across the board at the IRA regatta demonstrates progress.
“It was great to have two boats make the finals; last year we didn’t make any of the grand finals,” said Hughes.
“We have 13 rowers coming back from the top two boats so that is a good foundation going forward. They need to remember the things they did right and the things that they didn’t do right. They can’t stay the same.”
Hughes will always remember the role the seniors played in getting the program back on the right track.
“It was my most fun season in terms of boats being brave and taking risks,” said Hughes, whose varsity 8 featured seniors Michael Evans, Brian Wettach, and coxswain Keanan Clark.
“The seniors had a good long four years. The program is headed in the right direction. There was a different environment at the boathouse this year, the guys were excited to be there everyday and the credit for that goes to the seniors. The other guys get to come back and you never know what is going to happen. I would like to bring the seniors along with us.”