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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

CALIFORNIA DREAMING: Members of Princeton University's top open women's crew start a training session last week as they prepare to compete in the NCAA Women's Rowing Championships this weekend at Sacramento, Calif. The Tigers won the Eastern Sprints championship in early May, taking that title for the first time since 1997. Coming into the national competition, Princeton has won its last 10 races and boasts a 7-0 mark against Ivy League boats.
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Tenacious Princeton Women's Open Crew Looks To Add NCAA Title to Eastern Win

By Bill Alden

Lori Dauphiny wasn't sure what to expect from her Princeton University top women's open crew this spring.

Having lost a strong core of seniors to graduation, the seventh-year head coach decided to go with a combination of four seniors and five sophomores in her varsity eight.

The boat served notice that it might have some potential when it edged defending national champion Harvard-Radcliffe in a race on April 10 at Cornell.

A week later, the crew proved it had speed when it broke the Lake Carnegie course record for women boats as it raced to a time of 6:14.4 over the 2000-meter course.

But it wasn't until the race with Penn, Virginia, and Dartmouth on April 24, that Dauphiny knew that she had something truly special on her hands.

Due to a problem with an oar, the boat was forced to stop dead in the water 700 meters into the race, allowing both Virginia and Penn to pass it.

While most boats couldn't have recovered from such a setback, the Tigers summoned an astonishing ferocity as they recovered to win that race, beating Virginia by three seconds and Penn by 11.

Spurred by the confidence resulting from that comeback, the boat went on to edge Harvard-Radcliffe in the Eastern Sprints on May 9, giving Princeton its first win in that prestigious competition since 1997.

This weekend, the Tigers travel to Sacramento, Calif, where they will seek to add a national title to their resume as they compete in the NCAA Women's Rowing Championships.

In Dauphiny's view, that fateful race in late April was a pivotal moment in the boat's road to the nationals which sees it bringing a 10-race winning streak into the competition.

"It was pretty impressive, that rarely happens in rowing," said Dauphiny, reflecting on the win over Virginia, Penn, and Dartmouth.

"It showed a lot of courage, guts, and tenacity from this group. It was probably the first time that I realized that they're a really tough group."

Senior Hannah England, who rows at the No. 6 seat on the boat, said that race opened her eyes to the crew's passion.

"That was the first time I learned that this boat could compete with heart and dedication," said England, a native of Marblehead, Mass., who graduated from St. Paul's School. "The cool thing about rowing is that it takes so much effort but the people who do it really love it."

Like Dauphiny, England is pleasantly surprised with how things have come together this spring for the boat. "We lost some strong seniors from last year," acknowledged England, whose classmates on the boat include Kim Taggart, Anna Gerrard, and coxswain/captain Michelle Parris.

"I really didn't know what to expect this year. I think it was a work in progress. There was more focus and determination in the winter training. I think it sort of evolved, every week we would get more and more confident."

That confidence helped push the Tigers to its sweet victory in the Easterns. "We got out front and different boats charged at us," recalled England, a three-year performer on the top open boat.

"One of the special things about this boat is that you could sense that everyone in it was not going to let any boat go through it. I finished. I had finished fifth, fourth, and second at the Easterns. If it takes you four years to win something, you can really appreciate it."

Dauphiny, who acknowledges that her top boat isn't the most talented crew, appreciates the other qualities it brings to the water.

"They are not the most technically sound boat," said Dauphiny with a chuckle in reflecting on her boat which went 7-0 against Ivy league competition and will be competing at the Henley Regatta in England this July.

"They've become a little cleaner and more technically sound but that's not their strength. I think their strength had been attitude, truly, and hard work and courage."

Dauphiny knows her boat will need those qualities if it is to excel at this weekend's competition. "I always have high expectations," said Dauphiny, who is involved in the U.S. Olympic rowing program. "It's going to be very tough, I'm realistic as well. There will be the 16 varsity eight boats that have proven to be the fastest in the country. We'll be one of them so we'll see how things will come out."

Based on the heart the boat has shown so far this spring, things should come out fine for the crew.

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