With Junior Star Collins Bringing Talent, Drive PU Women’s Open Crew Primed for NCAAs
PULLING THROUGH: Princeton University women’s rowing star Claire Collins displays her form in a race this spring. Junior standout Collins rowed in the fourth seat to help the open varsity 8 win the Ivy championship regatta earlier this month, earning first-team All-Ivy honors in the process. Collins and the Tigers will be going after another title as the compete in the NCAA Championships from May 25-27 at Sarasota, Fla. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)
By Bill Alden
It didn’t take long for Claire Collins to make an impact in the sport of rowing.
Taking up the sport in the spring of her freshman year at Deerfield Academy (Mass.), Collins was competing for the U.S. National Junior team by that summer.
“It accelerated pretty quickly,” said Collins, a native of McLean, Va. who also starred at volleyball and swimming at Deerfield.
“Having a swimming background helped a lot with it. I am 5’11 and that is a good size for rowing. I had some natural talent and I had a lot of wonderful mentors and coaches that supported me right from the get-go.”
After a high school crew career that saw her earn two silver medals for the U.S. in the Junior Worlds and help Deerfield to a pair of titles at the Youth National Championships, Collins brought her talent to the Princeton University women’s open rowing program in 2015.
She ascended to the varsity eight as a freshman and last year helped the top boat enjoy an undefeated regular season on the way to the Ivy title and a ninth place finish at the NCAA Championships.
This spring, Collins has continued to excel earning first-team All-Ivy honors as Princeton went 12-1 in regular season action and won the Ivy championship regatta.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Collins and the Tigers will be going after another title as the compete in the NCAA Championships from May 25-27 at Sarasota, Fla.
While Collins has enjoyed a smooth rise up the rowing ladder, she ran into some rough water during her freshman campaign at Princeton.
“Rowing-wise, it was definitely different because I had never rowed year round, and also I had rowed twice in the 8 because we did mostly 4s at Deerfield,” said Collins
“The training was definitely harder and longer and in the fall we do longer races like the Head of Charles. I had never done any of those. I had some ergometer training on my own at Deerfield during swim season, but I had never spent the whole winter on the ERG so that was definitely different.”
The training paid off as Collins worked her way into the program’s top boat during her debut season.
“I felt coming in that you could contribute right away to the team; there wasn’t any hierarchy,” said Collins.
“We had wonderful senior class that year with the Class of 2016. Several of them are training with the national team right now. It was really cool to join a boat with such high-powered individuals. They were definitely welcoming; they gave wonderful advice and support.”
That summer, Collins enjoyed a special highlight as the Tigers went across the pond to compete in England.
“Freshman year was fun because the season kept going,” recalled Collins.
“We went to Henley that year, I put that at the top of my Princeton experiences. There is the Women’s Henley; it is a shorter race than the Henley Royal Regatta and we won that one. It was exciting and then we competed in the royal henley regatta. It was a big push, it gave a lot of motivation to me and to the team.”
In the fall of her sophomore season, Collins had to push though a rib injury.
“It was a very formative experience for me,” said Collins. “I learned a lot about myself as a person and as an athlete and how I mentally handle these things.”
After its undefeated regular season last spring, the top boat learned some valuable lessons after it failed to make the grand final at the NCAA Championships in nearby Mercer Lake, finishing ninth overall.
“We had a meeting right away when we got to our boathouse and talked for an hour about what are we going to do to get better,” said Collins.
“It was all of us together with Lori (head coach Lori Dauphiny). There was no blame, it was breaking it down and talking about what can this group do better. Lori was very much our coach and our peer in that moment. We were figuring this out together.”
Bringing that hard-earned perspective into this spring, the Tigers have enjoyed a superb season.
“We have taken those goals and those things that we wanted to change into this year,” added Collins.
“We changed our training in the winter. Women’s rowing is accelerating pretty quickly; the teams are getting better. It means that there is more competition, it means that the training is getting more and more intense with more volume. It takes more time.”
Facing foes from different regions, including Michigan, Iowa, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Virginia, has helped Princeton compete better.
“I think the more teams we get to see, we are put into different race situations and that is one of the things we have been working on this season,” said Collins.
“It is not just following a race plan, but having a race strategy, being racers, and being more on the offensive. It is hard in rowing, because there are no timeouts. We are on our own and you have to go out and do it. Seeing those different teams helped us in the Ivy competition, both in season and in the Ivy championships. We are able to handle now going into any type of race because we have seen a bunch of different competition.”
Noting that there is only one senior in the top boat, Collins believes that its relative youthfulness has been an advantage.
“It is not like people aren’t experienced or haven’t been to nationals, but there is still sort of this fresh perspective and open-mindedness,” said Collins, who is rowing in the four seat and earned first-team All-Ivy honors along with classmate Emily Kallfelz.
“Our boat is still of the mindset that each thing is new and you can respond to it. There is that drive to improve which is really important.”
As Princeton prepares for the NCAA regatta, it is driven to do better than last spring.
“When we get down there, there are small things, details in the boat that we are working on right now,” said Collins.
“We are trying to let the boat run and find some easy speed. When we get down there, it is race by race.”
But along with attention to detail, the Tigers need to simply enjoy the competition to have their best chance to succeed.
“I think this crew does best when we are just having fun and we are not feeling a ton of pressure,” said Collins.
“Princeton rowers have the danger of over thinking things sometimes. It is always a good reminder for us that we work best when we are relaxed.”