June 5, 2024

Fueled by Supportive Culture Molded by Senior Class, Princeton Women’s Open Crew Places 4th at NCAAs

by Bill Alden

In her 27 years as the head coach of Princeton University women’s open crew program, Lori Dauphiny has guided a number of superb teams.

Her tenure has included the 2006 and 2011 NCAA varsity 8 champions as well as the 2022 NCAA varsity 4 champion. While this year’s squad didn’t win a national title, it will stand out in Dauphiny’s memory.

“They are a special team; this team is very close and they have built a culture that is so supportive,” said Dauphiny. “It really shows. We didn’t just focus on our boats, we focus on the team. We talked about how much of the success comes from our Ivy campaign and from all of the boats.”

Dauphiny credits her senior group of 14 with setting that positive tone.

“There was a lot of uncertainty in the beginning of their time at Princeton; some of them took gap years, some of them persevered during that time where we didn’t know whether or not we would be able to race because the Ivy League hadn’t decided what would be permissible in the face of COVID,” said Dauphiny. “The senior class has seen so much; they built the culture we have because a lot of things were forgotten after COVID, like traditions and how the year worked. The senior class is really the ones who said ‘hey, this is how it is done,’ and passed it on to the younger kids.”

Last weekend, that senior group helped Princeton take fourth in the team standings at the NCAA Rowing Championships on Harsha Lake in Bethel, Ohio. The three Tiger boats in the competition, the varsity 8, the second varsity 8, and the varsity 4, each advanced to their grand final on Sunday. The varsity 4 led the way in the final day of action as they took second while the varsity 8 placed fourth and the second varsity came in sixth.

Heading into the NCAA regatta, Dauphiny believed her rowers were in a good place.

“We made some strides in our training which was great to see,” said Dauphiny. “It is like a week and a couple of days and then you are getting on a plane to go to the national championships. We didn’t have that many practices between Ivies and nationals and I would say we utilized them to the fullest extent.”

On Friday, the Tigers got off to good start as each boat advanced to the A/B semis with the varsity 4 and varsity 8 each placing first in their opening heats and second varsity taking second.
In the semis on Saturday, with the top three places advancing to the grand final, the Princeton boats came through as the varsity 4 and varsity 8 each took second while the second varsity rallied to place third.

“The varsity had a great semi; they had a rocky beginning to their race and they got it together,” said Dauphiny. “In the middle part of that race, they pulled it together and they were able to move on other crews that were in front of them. The 2V had to fight very hard to qualify. They had to come through boats, it really came down to the last few strokes of the race to qualify the boat in. They did what they needed to do to get into the final. The four was great all weekend. Their race profile is gaining speed as they go and moving through crew and they did that.”

On Sunday, the V4 provided a highlight with their silver medal performance in its grand final as the Tigers posted a time of 7:03.761 over the 2,000-meter course, trailing champion Texas by 4.2 seconds.

“I thought they crushed it, they really handled the boat well,” said Dauphiny, crediting assistant coach Anna Kalfaian for playing a key role in the boat’s success as she worked with it all spring. “It was a fierce race, they came from behind and rowed through crews. They gained confidence through the regatta and that really showed in their final race.”

Senior star Hailey Mead set the pace for the boat from the stroke seat.

“She stroked the four in 2022 that won the national championship so she is known,” said Dauphiny, whose four also included sophomore Laoise O’Donhoue, junior Alice Patton, and senior Emma Cavendish, with freshman coxswain Francie McKenzie. “She is famous in the four. She is a very talented rower and she is a great leader. She is formidable in all boats but she is really talented in that position.”

The varsity 8 started fast in its grand final but faded to fourth with a time of 6:15.556 in a race won by Texas in 6:09.920. The Tigers missed a bronze medal by 3.4 seconds as they got out-dueled for third place by Tennessee.

“I thought it was a great race for them, I am very proud of them,” said Dauphiny. “They really put it on the line and they set the pace of the race. In doing so, it may have affected their third 500. They really laid it out and I think they had an exceptional race. Tennessee got them in the second half of the race but it was close. It was a good battle.”

As for the second varsity, the boat was spent from its heroic effort on Saturday to make the grand final and came in at 6:09.928, 14.67 seconds behind champion Stanford.

“With the 2V, their legs were done,” said Dauphiny. “That race in the semi was pretty fierce and that is what they had to do. It was just hard for them to repeat that in the final.”

Coming in fourth in the team standings of the event won by Texas was a source of pride for the Tigers.

“It shows that the program is strong, it is a real testament to the senior leadership,” said Dauphiny. “We have a number of returners as well. It is exciting for next year. It is fuel for the fire. In the moment, we didn’t even really know that we were fourth. After the fact, when we stepped away from it, everyone was really pleased with the performance of the team.”

Those returners will be looking to follow in the footsteps of the team’s Class of ’24.

“They will never forget this senior class and they will carry on the traditions and standards these were set by that group,” said Dauphiny. “I very much look forward to having them back, it is such a big group. The seniors were crying at the end, saying we can’t wait to see you back in the boathouse and watch your racing.”