April 27, 2022

Gaining Experience By Getting Regular Racing, PU Men’s Heavyweight Crew Making Progress

HEAVY LIFTING: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight rowing varsity 8 churns through the water in a race earlier this spring. Last Saturday, Princeton finished behind Yale and topped Cornell in the race for the Carnegie Cup. Yale was determined to have cut to the inside of a turn buoy and was disqualified, giving the Tigers the cup. In upcoming action, Princeton hosts Brown on April 30 in the race before the Content Cup. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton Athletics)

By Bill Alden

It has been a steep learning curve this spring for the rowers on the Princeton University men’s heavyweight rowing team.

With the 2020 season having been canceled due to the global pandemic and the 2021 campaign limited drastically due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, many of the program’s athletes lacked any meaningful college rowing experience coming into 2022.

“In a normal year, in each of the boats, you have one or two first-years that are in that lineup and are learning from six or seven guys who have had a racing season at that level and have the experience and the knowledge and expectations for what it is all about,” said Princeton head coach Greg Hughes.

“This year, you have the exact opposite, you have one or two guys in each boat who have had a racing season and six or seven guys who have never done it before. It is very different. There is a lot more to talk about, to work on and teach.”

With a full schedule for the first time since 2019, the Tigers have been getting that racing knowledge.

“There is a lot that gets learned in a race; one of the things in rowing is that once they shove off the dock, there is no communication between coach and crew; it is not permitted,” said Hughes. “There is a lot of ownership that goes along with being in one of those crews. There are things that happen in the moment that you only see or learn in the moment. Sometimes you learn that in the race and the race ends and 20 seconds later you are, ‘shoot, I wish I had responded differently.’ It is good, that is the stuff that was missing. That is what makes rowing fun and that is why guys do it.”

The Princeton varsity 8 has learned a lot so far this spring, opening the season on March 26 by defeating Georgetown, Drexel, and Temple on Lake Carnegie and then edging Navy in Annapolis a week later. The Tigers then lost to Harvard on April 16, and last weekend the Tigers finished behind Yale and ahead of Cornell. Yale was determined to have cut to the inside of a turn buoy and was disqualified, giving Princeton the win.

For Hughes, the opening regatta on Lake Carnegie was an emotional moment for him and his rowers.

“To be able to get that first race here felt so great,” said Hughes. “It was hard to realize how much we had all missed it until we were doing it again and seeing how much it means and how special it is.”

Edging Navy by 0.9 seconds in the second race of the season to win the Navy-Princeton Rowing Cup was a step forward for the
top boat.

“It is a big, open exposed body of water and the conditions were actually really challenging,” said Hughes. “Navy is ready for that. You had five or six guys who had never raced a cup race before. That was their first cup race and they are in the varsity 8 on Navy’s home course against the Naval Academy. It is a big step up. They took that on well which was cool.”

On April 16, Princeton took on a powerful crew in fifth-ranked Harvard on the Charles River and fell by 6.0 seconds in the race for the Compton Cup.

“It was extremely heavy, rough conditions and the guys raced well,” said Hughes. “There was no fear shown, they engaged in the battle. Harvard had to fight to get back through them. It was a good way to step into that level of racing. Harvard had more speed than us. It was a good test for us. Here is where we know we can be stronger without a doubt. We walked away from that seeing that there were spots where we let some of the conditions get to us. We were able to come back and make some adjustments off of that.”

Last Saturday, the ninth-ranked Tigers were nearly seven seconds behind top-ranked Yale and two seconds ahead of 11th-ranked Cornell but came away with the
Carnegie Cup due to the error by the Bulldog boat.

“It is a disappointment, it is not how you want a race to go,” said Hughes. “Yale is fast, they are the No. 1 ranked crew in the country. They have been all year and that is who they are. Without a doubt on Saturday they were faster than us.”

In the view of Hughes, his top boat is poised to get faster.

“It has been a solid year for those guys, there is lot we still have to learn,” said Hughes. “What has been really impressive to me is the attitude they have had in just staying stuck into that and recognizing, ‘hey look, we are in the mix.’ We have obviously lined up against the No. 1 crew in our league and the No. 2 ranked crew in our league and both of those teams were
really strong. We are not quite there yet and we have work to do. We have to keep chipping away at it and try to get a little bit faster every week.”

With Princeton hosting seventh-ranked Brown on April 30 in the race for the Content Cup, Hughes will be looking for a strong performance from his rowers.

“Brown is good, they are ranked above us right now a few spots so it will be another good challenge,” said Hughes.

“They have had some great races. They fell to Harvard, they fell to Yale as well. It will be an awesome test. It will be another chance for us to step up against a higher ranked crew and race at that level. That is stuff that we really need. Racing at that level, you have to learn how to respond and be responded upon.”