Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 25
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
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POWER STEERING: Princeton University senior coxswain Dave Cleveland, far left, steers the Tiger men’s lightweight first varsity through a recent training session on Lake Carnegie. This spring, Cleveland guided Princeton to an undefeated season with Eastern Sprints and Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) titles along the way. Next week, Cleveland and the Tigers will look to culminate their spring in smashing fashion as they compete in the famed Henley Royal Regatta near London, England.

Making the Most of His Senior Crew Season, PU Coxswain Cleveland Primed for Henley

Bill Alden

Dave Cleveland enjoyed an early run of success in his career as a crew coxswain.

Getting into the sport as a freshman at the Tabor Academy (Mass.), Cleveland culminated his high school career by coxing a four for the U.S. at the Junior World Rowing Championships.

The Devon, Pa. native joined the Princeton University men’s lightweight program in 2005 and helped guide the freshman eight to the Eastern Sprints title.

But Cleveland ran into some rough water after that as he found himself stuck behind first varsity cox Sarah Sherman the next two years.

“It was pretty frustrating for a while,” said Cleveland. “I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much if I hadn’t had to deal with that.”

With Sherman having graduated in 2008, Cleveland has applied that hard-won knowledge in style this spring, steering the Tiger men’s lightweights to an undefeated season with Eastern Sprints and Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) titles along the way.

This week, Cleveland and his boatmates will look to culminate their spring in smashing fashion, heading to England to compete in the famed Henley Royal Regatta near London from July 1-5.

For Cleveland, getting the chance to race in Henley is the icing on the cake to a glorious final campaign.

“We have had so much fun this spring; we are excited to get to row another six weeks or so,” said Cleveland.

“I have always wanted to be a part of this race. My high school has gone a few times; they went my freshman year but I wasn’t on varsity then. I always thought it would be great to go; this is probably my only opportunity to do it.”

Coming into the spring, Cleveland had a sense that the top varsity boat could do some special things.

“We definitely thought that we had some good speed but our league is so competitive so you don’t know,” said Cleveland.

“We had a really successful fall; we won the Head of Charles. We lost the Princeton Chase by a half second and that was one of the best things for us because it forced us to work hard over the winter. We had a great winter training trip; we were optimistic about the season.”

That optimism proved to be well-founded as Princeton roared through an undefeated regular season this spring.

“After the first two or three races, we knew we were doing well and that we had some speed,” recalled Cleveland.

“We went against Harvard and Yale in one of the last meets. It is always something to shoot for and we got a win.”

The bond between Cleveland and his senior boatmates helped the Tigers achieve perfection as they won the Eastern Sprints and the IRA national crown.

“In winter training freshman year, I got close to the guys in the boat,” said Cleveland, who is joined on the top boat by classmates Justin Teti, Tom Paulett, Dave Krueger, and Alex Dillon.

“When we won sprints freshman year, that solidified our friendships. We have formed a solid bond.”

Princeton head coach Greg Hughes credits Cleveland with helping to create the good camaraderie among the seniors.

“It is a class that had the right approach; it looks like they are a pretty tight group,” said Hughes.

“They get along really well; I think Dave is a catalyst. We have had other good groups that could trust and rely on each other on the water and then they would go their separate ways.”

Hughes liked the way Cleveland handled his competition with Sherman.

“Dave came in talented and he has really developed,” said Hughes.

“We had a really good cox ahead of him in Sarah. I think it made both Sarah and Dave much better; they both developed competitively. It allowed us to have two good coxes in training. When you have two good coxes like that, you can really go at it in practice.”

In Hughes’ view, Cleveland was ready to apply those lessons this spring. “Obviously, it was his last chance to have a go,” added Hughes, a former Princeton rowing star who coached the Tiger freshman heavyweights to victory in the Temple Challenge Cup at the 2003 Henley regatta.

“I think he realized the talent that was there and that it was the opportunity to do something special. He wanted to make sure that he was an asset to the boat. He has learned to read things and juggle strong personalities. When you have strong personalities, you have to make sure the attitude is right and that the agenda is the same.”

For Cleveland, the agenda at Henley is clear. “Everyone is there because they are fast; we are really excited to get to go against them,” said Cleveland. “Princeton has won it before and Greg said we are going over there to win.”

Racing up the River Urwell in head-to-head duels against international competition could lead to some exciting moments for Cleveland.

“The course has wooden booms so steering is key,” said Cleveland. “It could be a race ender if you hit one of those.”

No matter how things end at Henley, Cleveland has gained quite an education from his crew experience at Princeton.

“I have learned more lessons on Lake Carnegie than I learned in the classroom,” asserted Cleveland.

“I don’t do the physical stuff but from watching these guys I have learned what hard work can do for you.”

And Cleveland has given his teammates a lesson in the value of perseverance.

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