Third-Seed Heavyweights Face Ultimate Challenge, Opportunity At Nearby IRAs
For Tom George and his Princeton heavyweight teammates, the ultimate opportunity is right in front of them, and it comes only a few miles away from campus.
The 2016 IRA Championships, held at nearby Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., take place June 3-5, and the Tigers enter as major contenders for both the Varsity Challenge Cup, given to the national champion, and the Ten Eyck Memorial Trophy, given to the team points champion.
The Princeton 1V, three weeks after winning silver at the Eastern Sprints, will enter as the third seed, behind only Eastern champion Yale and Pac-12 champion California. The Princeton 2V, also coming off silver at Sprints, enters as the fourth seed, while the Sprints gold medalist 3V will be the second seed.
Naturally, the 1V national championship (currently scheduled for 12:30 pm Sunday) will grab the most attention of the week. It has been 11 years since an Ivy League boat has won the biggest race of the heavyweight season, and it has been 18 years since Princeton has done it.
There are two boats that Princeton can use as a model for the weekend, and both — ironically enough — come from the same school, Yale.
The first boat is the 2015 Yale crew, which won both the Eastern Sprints and the Henley Royal Regatta. It might have also won the IRA grand final, but it never got the opportunity to find out. Instead, the Bulldogs finished a shocking fourth in a blazing Saturday semifinal, and they found themselves in the petite final.
“Every race demands the respect of the gods, and I fully expect the heats and semis to be more competitive than previous years, as everyone seeks to learn the valuable lesson that Yale provided us last year,” said George, the sophomore stroke of the 1V. “Yale have proved that they were better than their IRA result last year, and the fact that they missed the final speaks volumes of the respect that this sport deserves.”
To ensure themselves the best opportunity to truly challenge the elite in the sport, the Tigers know they want to limit themselves to 6000 meters of competitive rowing this weekend. Thus, the first major test will come Friday morning at 8:50 am, when Princeton rows from Lane 3 of its opening heat; the top two will advance directly to the semifinals, while the rest will race in an afternoon repechage.
The Tigers will be surrounded by some familiar boats in the event, as sixth-seeded Harvard (Lane 4) and 11th-seeded Penn (Land 2) will join George Washington (1), Stanford (5) and Temple (6) in the heat. Princeton topped Harvard by close margins in both the Compton Cup and Sprints finals, and it topped Penn by about 10 seconds in the Childs Cup.
If Princeton handles Friday, it will compete in either the 9:30 am or 9:40 am Saturday semifinals, which could be two of the most competitive races you’ll see. The top tier of heavyweight rowing is as strong as ever, but there are also a number of boats that have the capability to break into that tier with one exceptional race.
Ultimately, Sunday at 12:30 is the 'X' on the weekend map, the spot that six crews have fought for months to reach. It is where Princeton expects to see that second boat it can use as a model for the weekend — the 2016 Yale Bulldogs. This Tiger squad is coming off one of its best seasons ever (8-1, ranked third, Sprints silver medalist), but it hasn’t been the league’s best boat to this point.
“Obviously confidence will ebb and flow, and the strong regular season obviously provides confidence,” George said. “However, we cannot hide from the fact that Yale have held us off twice, both times by two seconds. This provides us with a challenge, but cannot hurt our confidence. If this was hurting our confidence, we would be in the wrong sport. Fortunately it is a motivating factor.”
Princeton has held a little extra time to prepare for this race; IRAs have typically come two weeks after Sprints, but the 2016 event comes three weeks later. How that affects each boat — more preparation vs. loss of competitive rhythm — probably won’t be determined until everybody gets to Mercer, but George was fine with it.
“Having three weeks off has been a bit different to previous years, but has allowed us to return to normality following a hectic weekend at the Sprints,” he said. “It has allowed us to refocus and make serious and beneficial changes before the IRA. Unlike previous years, it feels like we have been able to do proper training again after the Sprints.”
For senior Marty Barakso, a finalist for the prestigious Roper Trophy as the top male athlete from the Class of 2016, and classmates Patrick Eble, Patrick Konttinen and Ed Northrop, that race will also be the final one of their respective Princeton careers.
“Racing itself is always emotional,” Barakso said. “Considering this is the last time that I will get to represent and compete for Princeton and looking back on how much the team has accomplished over my four years here, this will definitely be the most emotional race of them all.
“That being said, however, I will treat it like any other race, stay focused on the process, and take it one day at a time,” he added. “I will save the emotion for after its all over.”
The Tigers should also be strong contenders for the Ten Eyck, especially with the strength in the 2V and 3V. The 2V will race its opening heat Friday at 10 am against Syracuse, Boston University and Navy; a top-two finish will send it to either the 10:10 or 10:20 Saturday semifinals. The 2V gold medal final will take place Sunday at 11:20 am.
The second-seeded Princeton 3V capped an undefeated regular season with gold at Sprints, and it will begin the weekend Friday at 10:20 in a heat against Navy, Wisconsin, California, George Washington and Hobart. The 3V semifinals will be Saturday at 10:40 and 10:50 am, and the grand final will be Sunday at 10:50.
Princeton will also enter a V4, which will race Friday at 11:20 with hopes of gaining a spot in the Saturday semifinals (11:00, 11:10). The V4 grand final will be at 9:50 am Sunday.