Princeton Women’s Open Crew Returns to Action, Posting 3 Wins Over Drexel as Emotions Run High
OPEN COMPETITION: The Princeton University women’s open varsity 8 displays its form last Saturday as it competed against Drexel on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The regatta marked the first Princeton Athletics event in 407 days. Princeton’s top boat finished first in its race posting a winning time of 6:52.2 over the 2,000-meter course with the Princeton women’s lightweights taking second in 7:03.5 and Drexel coming in third in 7:06. The Tiger second 8 and the varsity 4 also posted victories. Princeton is next in action on May 2 when it faces Rutgers and Syracuse on Mercer Lake along with a contest against Temple on Lake Carnegie. (Photo by Row2K, provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)
By Bill Alden
It is a memory from last March that is seared into Lori Dauphiny’s mind and heart.
When Princeton University women’s open crew head coach Dauphiny informed her rowers that the season was being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was greeted with dropped jaws and shock.
“I still remember looking at their faces and remember that it was really important that we as coaches stay strong,” said Dauphiny.
“It was crushing for those student-athletes, especially the seniors because as a coach you get another chance but as a senior you don’t so it was devastating. I am still a bit rattled from it, honestly, and sad. I feel like it was a loss that could never be regained, you can never make it up.”
Last Saturday, Dauphiny made some new memories as the rowers returned to action by competing against Drexel on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.
“I think when we loaded the trailer with our boats they thought hey, this is going to happen,” said Dauphiny, reflecting on the first Princeton Athletics event in 407 days which also saw the men’s heavyweights, men’s lightweights, and women’s lightweights all in action on the Schuylkill.
“There was a lot of excitement. When they were there you could really see it, especially after the racing. It was just so fun, they were jumping, laughing, singing and dancing. It is a rare occurrence, they are usually so stressed with their school work and they still are. It was a release of energy.”
It was a long and stressful journey to the the opening regatta. The team stayed in touch through Zoom calls last spring after the students were sent home in March. Over the summer, the virtual contact continued with the hopes of being back on campus in the fall. Initially, two classes were invited back to Princeton in the fall but that was later changed and students remained remote.
In late January, students returned to campus and Dauphiny finally started working with her squad in person on February 8 but it still took a while for the rowers to make it back on to the waters of Lake Carnegie.
“We weren’t able to row at that time, we were doing Ergs [ergometer rowing machines] outside,” recalled Dauphiny.
“All of the Ergs were 12 feet apart and we had specific Ergs assigned to each rower. When we were finally allowed to go on the water in late February, we had to go in singles only to start and then we worked from there. We would have people who were in the same households rowing together. There were lots of rules and there still are. It is very structured and we are very careful about everything that we do. Luckily our sport does lend itself to being safe because it is all outdoors. When we moved to phase three we were allowed to go in 4s and then when we moved into phase four we were allowed to go into 8s.”
Once the program moved into phase three, it started looking for races as the Ivy League had previously cleared non-conference competition against local colleges for teams reaching phase four.
“When we were told that we could possibly get to phase four but we weren’t there yet, we started calling schools,” said Dauphiny.
“I have to say a great thank you to Drexel for saying yes to us. We had no guarantee that we would actually be able to travel to Philadelphia. It is in the 40-mile radius. We didn’t know if we would get to phase four and we didn’t know if Princeton would ultimately give us the permission to race. Drexel was kind enough to put us on their schedule and keep their fingers crossed because you have very few rowing races during the season. If a team puts someone on the schedule and they just drop, it is hard to get a replacement.”
On Saturday, the rowers competed hard with the varsity 8 finishing first in its race, posting a winning time of 6:52.2 over the 2,000-meter course with the Princeton women’s lightweights taking second in 7:03.5 and Drexel coming in third in 7:06. The Tiger second 8 and the varsity 4 also posted victories.
“I thought the boats performed very well, as coaches, we were really pleased with the results,” said Dauphiny.
“The varsity 8 was a little rough. It is what you would expect because we haven’t had a tremendous amount of time in the boat. The course was a bit choppy and I thought all three boats handled it well. It was the first away race we have had since NCAAs in 2019. I think they did exceptionally well when you look at the big picture.”
Princeton is looking forward to another big day of racing on May 2 when it faces Rutgers and Syracuse on Mercer Lake along with a contest later in the day against Temple on Lake Carnegie.
“There is more that we can work on, mainly by taking strokes together,” said Dauphiny, looking ahead to that competition.
“I think the starts and the sprint and shifts, the parts of racing that we haven’t really had much time to work on.”
While her rowers may need to fine-tune things, they have already demonstrated a strong resolve that Dauphiny won’t soon forget.
“I was very proud of our staff and everyone who helped us get there,” said Dauphiny.
“I am just so proud of the fact that the rowers stayed tough during really challenging times. They didn’t have the support of each other through a large portion of the year and yet they came together and they persevered. They were resilient and I am just very proud of them.”