Fueled by Disappointing Finish Last Spring, PU Open Crew Improves to 5th at NCAAs
By Bill Alden
After the Princeton University women’s open varsity eight placed a disappointing ninth at the 2017 NCAA Championships, it was time for some immediate soul searching.
The rowers met with head coach Lori Dauphiny as soon as they made the short trip from Mercer Lake to their boathouse for a frank exchange of views.
“It was a time for reflection when it happened. It was challenging because it was very emotional,” said Dauphiny.
“I listened hard and closely. I was pleased that they had the motivation and dedication, at that time when they were feeling so blue, to think about what we could do differently. We really tried to adjust this year; it was not a major overhaul but we changed a few things.”
After going 13-1 in regular season races this spring and winning the grand final at the Ivy championship regatta, the varsity eight culminated its season of redemption by taking fifth at the NCAA championships last weekend at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Fla.
“They were definitely on a mission. They had matured as a boat,” said Dauphiny.
“There are many returners in that boat, so they had the experience of last year. They handled it with much more maturity as better racers than they had last year.”
As the top boat hit the water last Friday for its opening heat, it had to handle some tension.
“They were very nervous going into the heat; it was the most nervous I have ever seen them,” said Dauphiny of the crew which ended up taking second to Washington in the race to advance directly to the semis.
“After the heat there was a great sense of relief, it was, OK, we know what we are doing because there was a fear since it was the national championship and it was coming down the the final set of racing. Once they got the heat under their belts, that helped quite a bit to release some of the fear that they felt.”
In the semis on Saturday morning, Princeton held off Michigan to take third and book a spot in the grand final.
“The semi was tough; it was hard fought,” said Dauphiny, whose top boat was seeded eighth coming into the competition. “We knew every race would be tough for us because of our ranking going into it. We were pleased with the semi.”
With the threat of thunderstorms prompting a change of schedule and the finals being moved up to Saturday afternoon rather than Sunday, the Tigers kept racing hard as they took fifth in a race won by California.
“I can’t say that they fell short in the final,” said Dauphiny, whose boat clocked a time of 6:23.34, missing third by less than six seconds at Texas took bronze in 6:17.80.
“They laid it out and they gave it everything that they had. You don’t have a shot if you don’t get into the grand final.”
The Princeton second varsity eight laid it on the line as it also finished in the top 10, placing ninth as the rowers had to go through a repechage, or second chance, heat to fight their way into the semis and then took third in the petite final in the race for 7th-12th places.
“They found their base speed in the rep. The bad side of the rep was that the whole regatta was compressed,” said Dauphiny, who varsity four placed 13th.
“You have to race four times intensely in 48 hours. It takes a toll, you pay a price. They did their best in the semis but they were in above their heads. I would say that the final was awesome, that was their best race of the championship. It ended on a great note.”
By paying the price over the season, the open rowers left the NCAAs this year with a much better feeling than they did in 2017.
“The seniors felt accomplishment because this championship was so much better than last year in the overall team performance,” said Dauphiny.
“The seniors left feeling good about what they had contributed to the team. We will greatly miss that senior group because they have been a force for us on the team. I think the underclassmen, and there are a number of them because it is a young team, are just excited about next year and the progress that they made. They want to do better, so by no means are we completely satisfied. The process is a big part of it, and this was a big step in the right direction.”