Maddie Alden has no trouble voicing what’s on her mind, something I can attest to as her father.
That trait combined with her petite stature led to suggestions before entering Princeton High that she would be ideally suited to be a crew coxswain.
“One of my best friends in middle school had an older sister who did crew and their family thought I would be perfect for the role of the coxswain because I was so tiny and really loud,” said Alden.
Alden took up the suggestion and joined the Mercer Junior Rowing Club (MJRC) and quickly fell in love with coxing. She worked her way up the ranks, guiding the women’s lightweight 4 to the nationals twice before coxing the women’s varsity 8 to the nationals as a senior.
Inspired by other MJRC athletes who went on to compete at the next level, Alden, a 2011 PHS grad, ended up going to UCLA, where she was recruited by the Pacific 12 school’s rowing program.
But once out in Westwood, Alden had trouble finding her voice. “It was hard; you come from a program where you are the varsity coxswain, you are top dog,” said Alden, listed at 5’0 on the UCLA roster.
“People look up to you, because you are going to school for this, that is really impressive and then you start at the bottom again. It was really hard to go into a new program where the coaches have a completely different coaching style, you have to learn what they want and that is one of the hardest things. Coxswains are supposed to be coaches in the boat so if you are doing a drill, they expect you to do it properly and they expect you to do it right the first time, not the second time. They want practice to run smoothly and your job is to enforce the smoothness of the practice. It was hard because I didn’t know what these coaches wanted.”
Figuring out what the coaches wanted, Alden coxed the novice 4 to a win at the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships in her freshman year. As a sophomore, she guided the second varsity 4 to a third place finish on day one at the San Diego Crew Classic and to a big win over USC.
This spring, she moved up to the varsity 4 and helped the boat make it to the NCAA championships where it placed 15th in the country.
“Sophomore year I kind of got my grounding; I think the biggest thing about the varsity 4 coming from the second varsity 4 was that I met with my coach (associate head coach Justin Price) twice a week and sometimes three times,” said Alden, a sociology major and education minor who has earned honorable mention Pac 12 All-Academic honors.
“I would just talk out practice and how practice was going. I would talk out future races with him. I would just really get in his head, picking his brain for what he wanted and what he saw was going on. I became more of a liaison for him, a messenger between him and the rowers. I am a connection between how they are feeling and how he is feeling to see where his head is at and to prepare the rowers for what he is thinking.”
For Alden, earning the trip to the NCAAs at Eagle Creek Reservoir in Indianapolis, Ind. was a heady accomplishment.
“I had seen my team go two years in a row and I was stuck at home watching the races,” said Alden.
“As much as I was proud of them, I wanted to be in one of those boats. It was awesome to know you have done well, you are now on the team that is chosen to go.”
Alden and her boatmates put in extra effort to do well in Indianapolis. “It was intense, we had changed our lineup so you go in with an untested lineup,” said Alden.
“I had never been to a bigger race than the NCAAs. There is no bigger race besides international competition. This is it for most rowers. You go into it knowing that it is the big deal and what you have trained for. This is what I worked for seven years so finally getting to be there, I was dialed in. I remember the two weeks before all I could think about was how to make the boat go faster.”
While the varsity 4 had hoped to make the B final and have a shot at finishing 7th-to-12th in the country, Alden was happy with the boat’s effort.
“We had some tough breaks, I just remember just wanting to be the best we could be,” said Alden.
“We weren’t the fastest. I wasn’t looking to go win the grand final, I was looking to be the fastest and perform at our best. The repechage (second-chance race) was a big race for us, I wish we had gotten second to make it into that B final but it didn’t work out in our favor and that is fine. In the C final, we had a great performance. I just remember being so proud of just being there.”
For Alden, just being at the NCAA won’t be enough as she and her fellow rising seniors look ahead to their final campaign
“I am already ready to go back and get faster; I have been there, I have seen what it is like,” said Alden of the Bruins, who placed 12th overall in the team standings at the NCAAs.
“It made me want to be more successful. I think the biggest thing I took away from NCAAs is seeing the future and how strong of a senior class we have this year with 10 seniors. Knowing how strong and how close knit our senior class is and how committed we all are to being the best, the NCAAs really just amped me up. Right after I finished my last race, I thought I just want to go back and do it all again. I know what we can do, I know what we were missing this year. I know that I want to improve and just keep getting faster.”
This summer, Alden is refining her voice on the water, helping to coach the Mercer Rowing Club women’s rowers.
“Normally with a coxswain,
in an 8 especially, you see the boat and the oars in front of you, you don’t see the side view so being on the launch gives you a different perspective,” said Alden, who also guides the club’s summer learn-to-row program and proudly notes that the Mercer women won two races at the Independence Day Regatta in Philadelphia and had five first-place finishes last week at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in St. Catherines.
“You have to tell them what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. It makes me have to be sharp with my knowledge and how I can help them. It also gives me the ability to really hone in on using my vocab and making sure the girls understand what I am saying and getting my point across. So the communication of seeing a problem, addressing it and fixing it has exponentially gotten better.”