June 6, 2018

Displaying Guts, Grit After Hasty Boat Repair, PU Men’s Heavyweights Take 5th in IRA Final

HEAVY DUTY: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight varsity eight churns through the water as it competed in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta grand final last Sunday on Mercer Lake. The Tigers took fifth in the race, which was won by Yale. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

It became a nightmare scenario for the Princeton University men’s heavyweight varsity eight as it warmed up for the grand final at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta last Sunday morning.

An oar on the Princeton boat got caught in the choppy water on Mercer Lake and snapped back, breaking a stay on the boat.

After a repair made on the water and a hasty warmup during a five-minute delay in the 7:30 a.m. starting time, Princeton rowed to the starting line and took off.

While the Tigers fell short of a national title as they placed fifth in a race won by Yale, Princeton head coach Greg Hughes was impressed by his boat’s grit.

“They knew they were going to have figure this one out,” said Hughes, whose boat posted a time of 6:11.161 over the 2,000-meter course just over two seconds behind third place California (6:08.911) and 9.5 seconds behind winner Yale (6:01.648).

“It was definitely a challenge but it didn’t faze them. It speaks a lot of those guys and their resiliency. It was a great, gutsy race; they rowed an awesome piece. It was our best piece of the year. To finish in front of Brown was great and to be in that kind of a battle with Harvard squeaking it out at the line.”

The second varsity eight also advanced to the grand final but struggled in the choppy water, placing sixth in a race won by Washington.

“That was obviously a tough way to finish a really strong and positive season,” said Hughes.

“There are a lot of youngsters in there, so lessons learned to be in their first national championship and see that level. It was a wakeup call for them in the heats that, as much as we talked about that level of racing stepping up even from the sprints, it caught them off guard. They rebounded really well for their semifinal and did a nice job in that and made some good positive steps. Sunday was a tough day, it wasn’t their best and that is racing.”

After a tough day in the semis where it took forth and failed to advance to grand final, the third varsity eight rebounded to win the petit final on Sunday and finished seventh overall.

“Saturday was a burner of a semi, that is always tough and they came up short,” said Hughes.

“To rally and have a strong race on Sunday, that is a race for pride and they did an awesome job. By then the conditions were really challenging. It was a 7:10 race so it was 1:20 slower that their race the day before. It was a very different scenario. That takes some real focus and commitment so that was good to see.”

Hughes saw a committed effort from his rowers throughout the spring. “Overall it was a really strong, positive year with the results for the full squad through the regular season,” said Hughes.

“The Sprints was a standout. I feel like we really developed well through that. We didn’t carry it quite the way through the IRA as we had all hoped. We will go back and take a look at that. There is lots we can learn there and put to good use next year.”

In order to carry things through to the end, the team’s returning rowers will need to follow the example set by this year’s seniors.

“There were some real standouts at the varsity end, the top end, but across the board they were great,” said Hughes in assessing the program’s Class of 2018.

“It was impressive leadership from this group and they were just fighters. This junior class will have some shoes to fill. I think they are up to the task, but we will have work to do. We are going to have to get to work, there is no way around it.”