RETURN TRIP: Princeton University men’s heavyweight crew coxswain Jameson Pesce guides the first varsity 8 in a race this spring. Senior Pesce, who helped Princeton’s top boat take third at both the Eastern Sprints and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championships, is currently competing with Princeton at the Henley Royal Regatta in England. It marks a return trip for Pesce, who coxed the St. Andrew’s School (Del.) varsity 8 to second in the Princess Elizabeth Cup at the 2011 Henley regatta as a senior in high school. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton Crew)
For Jameson Pesce, competing at the Henley Royal Regatta in England was the holy grail for his crew team at St. Andrew’s School (Del.).
“We had gone to Henley a few times at St Andrew’s,” said Pesce. “There are some schools that go on a regular basis. We would go if we felt we had a boat fast enough to compete. Henley was always my ultimate goal in high school.”
As a senior, coxswain Pesce guided his varsity 8 to Henley in 2011, where it finished second in the Princess Elizabeth Cup.
Matriculating to Princeton University later that year, Pesce joined the Tiger men’s heavyweight program and turned his attention to the Eastern Sprints and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championships.
Moving up the ranks from the freshman boat to the second varsity as a sophomore, Pesce started coxing the Princeton first varsity 8 as a junior.
This spring in his senior campaign, he piloted the Tigers to bronze at both the Eastern Sprints and the IRAs. As a bonus, the boat was one of three crews sent to upcoming Henley competition by the Princeton University Rowing Association (PURA).
Getting the chance to end his college career at Henley, which takes place from July 1through 5 on the Thames River near London, has special meaning for Pesce.
“I am really excited to end my college career at the place that was my ultimate goal in high school,” said Pesce, whose boat will be competing for the Ladies Challenge Plate at Henley along with the second varsity 8 while the third varsity 8 is going for the Temple Cup.
“We found out after sprints that we were going to Henley. It was a surprise. We thought we lost our chance when we came in third because it is usually only someone who wins the sprints that gets sent. We had a strong enough performance and coach (Greg) Hughes told us they have faith in your group.”
While Pesce, a native of nearby Yardley, Pa., initially wanted to head north for college, his faith in the Princeton crew program helped keep him in the area.
“I visited Brown and Harvard first, there was nothing separating the two; I was thinking it was going to be a tough decision,” said Pesce, who spent a lot of time in Princeton as a child, attending the Chapin School from kindergarten to second grade and going to the Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart from third to eighth grade before making the move to St. Andrew’s for high school.
“I went to Princeton and there was something else that I didn’t feel at the others. There was a bond within the team. The teammates hung out with each other, they went to classes together, they lived together. They were always with each other. I liked the feel of the team. I saw what Greg (Hughes) and Spencer (assistant coach Spencer Washburn) did with the lightweights and they had the heavyweights on the right track.”
Upon moving up to the first varsity heavyweight 8 in his junior year, Pesce worked hard to keep the boat on track.
“It was just the level and difference in quality of rowers,” said Pesce, who helped Princeton take third at Eastern Sprints and fourth at the IRAs.
“On JV, certainly there were crews that we raced that didn’t have the depth. Every race on varsity is single digits, you never break into open water. It was getting comfortable with tight races.”
Coming into this spring, Pesce was primed for a big senior year. “We had some good returners and good additions in freshmen and lightweights who moved up,” said Pesce.
“The junior year was especially helpful for me. You have eight rowers in the boat and if there is a new rower coming in, the others can help. There is only one cox, there is no one to help. Building on that experience junior year really helped me.”
That experience paid off as Pesce helped pilot Princeton a dramatic win over Brown on May 2 as the Tigers rallied from about seven seats down in the final 500 meters to pull past the Bears in the final 10 strokes.
“That was an incredible race, it was one of those things; the adrenaline was going,” said Pesce.
“It is when we know we are down but we can do this, stay relaxed, trust the other guys in the boat and stay internal. We knew we could beat them. These guys believed. I told them what I was trained to tell them but they executed.”
Four weeks later, Princeton nearly executed another stunning comeback as the Tigers finished third in the IRA Grand Final on May 31, just behind winner Washington and runner-up California.
“In the second 500, UW was pulling away and we made a move on Cal,” said Pesce.
“We threw it down with the. We were ahead, then they were ahead. It was even. They got us by a foot at the end. I can’t complain. It took four years to get that IRA medal. I know how elusive that is but I was even happier that we executed our race plan exactly the way we wanted.”
Starting its training for Henley on June 9, a week after graduation, Princeton has had extra time to fine-tune its racing for the prestigious competition that consists of head-to-head knock-out competitions on a course 112 meters longer than the typical distance of 2,000-meters for American collegiate races.
“We have gotten essentially three weeks of training in two; we were able to do double sessions which we can’t do in school,” explained Pesce.
“There are a lot of unknowns with boats from Germany and Australia. We know Yale, our JV, and Washington. A lot depends on the draw. If we get a boat we know, we will show that we have improved. If we get a boat we don’t know, we will throw it down. I am so thankful to have this opportunity to just focus on rowing.”
Reflecting on his time at Princeton, Pesce is thankful for the opportunities that have come his way on the water and in the classroom.
“I couldn’t imagine my college experience without rowing,” said Pesce, who studied national security and defense issues in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and is pursuing a job in that field.
“The senior thesis was a crowning achievement academically, it is a way to show what you had learned. In rowing, the championship races were a way to show what I learned in terms of crew. For me, it was learning how to be a clear communicator, especially in tight races.”