June 16, 2017

Embracing Mixing and Matching of Lineups, PU Men’s Heavyweights Rose to Occasion at IRAs

IN SYNCH: Members of the Princeton University men’s heavyweight varsity 8 compete in a race earlier this spring. Earlier this month, the varsity 8 placed fourth in the grand final at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

As his Princeton University men’s heavyweight squad prepared for the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championships, Greg Hughes decided to shake things up.

“There is a lot of parity within the group, and as the season goes on people make some great adjustments,” said Princeton head coach Hughes.

“After the Eastern Sprints, there was a lot of opportunity to give guys some more looks. We ended up with some different combinations in the 1V (first varsity 8) and 2V (second varsity 8). It was good for both boats.”

The Tigers ended up getting some good results at the regatta in Sacramento, Calif. as the varsity 8 took fourth in the grand final while the second varsity 8 and varsity 4 each placed third.

“It takes a good team to accept and to embrace that,” said Hughes, reflecting on his mixing and matching.

“Everybody has the same goal and ultimately the goal is to have the fastest 1V, the fastest 2V, and the fastest 3V. We are trying to make Princeton fast. Wherever I am, my goal is to make that boat the fastest and this team really embraced that.”

Princeton’s top two boats showed speed in the opening heat as both of them took second to advance straight to the semifinals.

“That was a good test, neither of those combinations had raced together as a boat,” noted Hughes.

“We had done some work and some pieces but that first 2,000-meter shot against an opponent, you have got to be ready for that. There is less that you will learn while it is going on and they handled that well.”

In the semis, Princeton handled things well again with the 1V and 2V each placing third to book spots in the grand final.

“Both boats did a nice job there, honestly one of the most nervous days for any coach is semifinal day,” said Hughes.

“The competitions are always really stiff, there is no easy path and you need to have a strong race. It is just crazy that your whole season can come down to one 2,000-meter shot.”

The 1V came within a whisker of a medal, taking fourth as Yale prevailed with a time of 5:29.900 over the 2,000-meter course on Lake Natoma with Washington finishing second in 5:29.969 and Harvard taking third in 5:33.455, edging Princeton, which came in at 5:33.786.

“That was by far their best race this season,” said Hughes. “That was a stacked final, they raced really well. It was just a gritty explosive effort, they engaged in the battle really well early and pressed really well going to the 1000 and just made themselves a contender, which was really exciting. On that run to the line, would it have been nice to have been one-tenth faster, sure but there is nothing to take away. There are no regrets from that effort; it was remarkable performance and the strongest one of the year.”

The 2V grand final turned into a four-horse race won by Washington in 5:38.654 with California placing second 5:40.720, the Tigers taking third in 5:40.777 and Yale finishing fourth in  5:40.824.

“They set the tone of that race right away, they led the pack and were out in front of the group through the 1,000,” recalled Hughes.

“They were out in lane six and Washington was over in lane one. Washington got through and probably had four seats. It was incredible, there was one horn for four boats and you just waited. It was truly an awesome race and good for those guys to have that. They have been a strong boat all year and they got the hardware they deserve.”

In assessing the year overall, Hughes pointed to resilience as the calling card of his squad.

“This was a different kind of season, it required a lot of grit from everybody involved,” said Hughes.

“It was a total team effort; everybody stayed focused and on task. That is hard to do when things get a little tough in the middle of a season.”

The team’s seniors helped keep Princeton focused after it suffered losses to Harvard and Yale on consecutive weeks in April. The Tigers rebounded at Eastern Sprints in mid-May as the 1V took third and the 2V prevailed.

“They did a really great job of leading the squad, the Sprints was a great reward coming off of a couple of hard weeks in April when we were also battling a lot of illness,” said Hughes, citing the efforts of senior captain Nick Mead.

“They could have written it off there and said hey OK, the season is what it is but nobody did so a ton of credit to those guys because as young guys, that takes a lot of foresight and a lot of maturity to be able to see that and recognize what is possible and to go and get it.”

In Hughes’ view, big things are possible going forward. “There is a good group of guys that will be back and because of all the adjustments we were making through the season, there were a lot of guys that spent some time in the varsity,” said Hughes.

“They raced at that top level and got some really great experience. There will be value in that, understanding what that level is like and how hard you have to work and how prepared you need to be to compete at that level. I also think we learned that we can’t take anything for granted.”