July 31, 2019

Ending Mercer Rowing Career on a High Note, Stuart’s Huber Takes Silver at Youth Nationals

FAB FOUR: Recent Stuart Country Day School grad Annie Huber, third from left, enjoys the moment after helping the Princeton National Rowing Association Mercer Junior Rowing (PNRA-Mercer) Youth Men’s 4 with coxswain take second at the USRowing Youth National Championships last month in Sarasota, Fla. The boat included Brady Stergion (Notre Dame High), Jack Gallagher (Council Rock North), and juniors Leon Deng (Princeton High) and Grant Smith (Montgomery High) in addition to coxswain Huber.

By Bill Alden

In her junior season with Princeton National Rowing Association Mercer Junior Rowing (PNRA-Mercer) in 2018, Annie Huber wasn’t expecting to guide her Men’s Four to a medal at the USRowing Youth National Championships.

“I don’t think I understood how good we were; I knew that the boys on my boat were fast and that we rowed well together,” said coxswain Huber, who helped the crew place third and earn bronze. “I was thinking maybe we could make the A final.”

Losing three rowers from that boat, Huber wasn’t sure if this year’s four could make a big run at nationals.

“We were really worried because we had massive change from the four last year,” said Huber, a recent Stuart Country Day School grad who is heading to Georgetown University where she will be competing for its men’s rowing program.

“We went back and listened to the videos from the race and the announcer said the defining quality for the Mercer 4 was that they were physically imposing and intimidating. This year we had a boat that averaged 20 pounds less.”

The undersized crew pulled off another surprise, taking second at this year’s youth nationals last month in Sarasota, Fla.

“We all had this goal, this looming presence from last year with the four medaling,” said Huber.

“If you are in the top four, you have to be serious, you have to buckle down. We still absolutely had our moments where it was very fun in training but everyone was definitely motivated. It wasn’t pushing people to be at the top level of competition, it was re-instilling faith when something bad would happen, like when we have a practice that wasn’t the best. They needed to be reminded that one practice wasn’t everything. Everyone has bad practices, Olympic teams have bad practices.”

It didn’t take Huber long develop faith in herself as she learned the ropes of being a coxswain when she joined the Mercer program during her freshman year at Stuart

“I think the toughest thing was just learning how to steer, especially with docking,” said Huber, noting that she came to Mercer camp in the summer after 8th grade planning to be a rower but ended up as a coxswain when there was a shortage of people to steer boats.  

“Everyone sees you dock and you never want to be the one coxswain who runs into something. I liked it a lot from the start. Always my biggest worry was that, I wasn’t learning enough, quickly enough. I would write everything my coaches ever said down and read it back to myself.”

Huber moved over to the boys’ program early on to increase her learning curve.

“When I was a novice, I was on the girls’ team for a few days and they basically said does anyone want to cox for the guys,” recalled Huber.

“My first question was am I going to be on the water more and they said yes and I said then I will do it. I got the hang of what I was doing and I would say ‘you guys are going to listen to me because I am here to help you.’”

For this year’s four, listening to varsity boys’ head coach Jamie Hamp, a former Princeton University rowing star, on the eve of the grand final at nationals helped the crew stay focused.

“The night before the finals, our coach came in and said ‘I know you guys can do this,’” said Huber.

“‘You have the training, you have the fitness. You guys need to know that you just need to execute,’ basically was the gist of it. The fact that he was putting his trust in us was very calming, almost like a little bit of security.”

Surveying the competition at the start of the final, Huber felt some nerves.

“I am sitting in line with all of the coxswains at the beginning and you look across and it is we are going to have to take this one step at a time,” said Huber, noting that the field included such powerhouses as Saratoga (N.Y.), Belmont Hill (Mass.), and defending champion Deerfield (Mass.).

“All boats are competitive at this point. Since we are small, the entire season, we have been learning how to race from behind. We knew that we needed a very solid base for the middle of the race. It was having faith in that training and when we got there our base fitness would compensate for a less than perfect start.”

The Mercer boat produced an incredible finish, posting a time of 6:21.15 over the 2,000-meter course, less than three tenths of a second behind first place Saratoga, who came in at 6:20.86.

“What was amazing was that it didn’t fail technically in the last 250 meters, where it was coming down to those 3/10ths of a second,” recalled Huber.

“There was still a level of composure. Everyone was absolutely committed and putting that energy and nervousness into rowing, rather than letting it stay in their head.”

Making to commitment to PNRA/Mercer proved to be a great move for Huber.

“Racing at Mercer is definitely one of the best choices I ever made,” said Huber, who is coaching this summer for PNRA/Mercer and coxing in its U23 program and will be competing in the Canadian Henley regatta in early August.

“I missed graduation to go to nationals, another kid in my boat did as well. It was absolutely worth it.”

As she looks forward to matriculating to Georgetown this fall, Huber is primed for another worthwhile rowing experience.

“It is just, show up for orientation and a week after that is when we start going to practice, which is nice because it gives us a little time to adjust,” said Huber. “I would really hope to go to IRAs (the Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championship regatta) by the time I am a senior.”