With the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta being held at nearby Mercer Lake, the Princeton University men’s heavyweight crew was looking to feed on its supporters.
“We were excited to be racing close to home,” said Princeton head coach Greg Hughes.
“It was reunion week so there were a lot of alums who would be back. It was pretty remarkable to see them; it was neat for me as a coach and it was great for the guys.”
The Tiger varsity 8 provided the Princeton fans with some exciting moments as it produced superb efforts in the opening heat on Friday and semifinals on Saturday and then placing fourth in the grand final on Sunday.
“The plan was take things one day at a time; we knew we needed to have three great races to do what we wanted to do,” said Hughes, whose top boat placed first in its opening heat and second in the semifinals.
“We started off with a heat against Brown. We were executing things we had been working on in the down time since Eastern Sprints; that gave us a boost for the whole weekend. On Saturday, the race was just fun to watch. We were aggressive in pretty tough conditions, there was a crosswind and it was choppy at times. It was fun to get out in front in a race like that. Sometimes we are too cautious, worrying about making the finals.”
In the grand final, Princeton battled hard as it missed third place by less than two seconds.
“We carried that into the final on Sunday,” added Hughes, whose top boat clocked a time of 5:43.715 with Washington first in 5:37.113, Brown second in 5:39.626, and California third in 5:42.063.
“It was apparent that there were 6-8 really good boats and it would come down to who had the best piece on the day. There was no question that Washington stepped up, I was even more impressed with Brown; they raced beyond themselves and that’s what you have to do. That was our best piece of the year. We were in front of Harvard for the first time in years, that was a big step for us. We have six guys returning on that boat and they have a sense of what it takes to go to the IRAs and compete.”
The second varsity 8 provided the best moment of the weekend as it placed second in the grand final, clocking a time of 5:45.133, trailing only Cal which came in at 5:42.880.
“That was the race of the year for our program, the credit goes to Spencer [Washburn] because he worked hard with that crew,” said Hughes referring to trusted assistant Washburn, who is leaving the program to become the head crew coach at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.
“They brought an emotional intensity to that race. That was the culmination of a lot of hard work and spirit. They took control of the race and made everyone race to their standards. They beat Northeastern, who had beaten them at the Sprints. They beat Washington, a boat that hadn’t lost a race at the IRAs for the last four or five years.”
Over the last few seasons, the heavyweight program has raised its standards.
“The results we saw at the IRA speak to the progress of the year,” said Hughes, whose third varsity 8 took sixth and varsity 4 placed 12th.
“The team has changed its culture. It has developed a stronger work ethic and character. It has taken a lot of hard work and we are starting to see the result of that. Spencer and I played a part but the lion’s share of the credit has to go to the senior class; they had places where they wanted to see the team go to. They stayed true to that through some ups and downs. They were remarkable and they are going to be missed. They are leaving a legacy.”
In order to live up to that legacy, the returning rowers will have to keep going hard.
“We can’t take things for granted,” said Hughes. “The senior class has shown us that it is possible and we are good enough if we do the work.”