Lightweight Men Ready To Author New Chapter At Nearby IRA Championships
Three weeks after repeating history, the Princeton men’s lightweights will look to author a new story this weekend.
The Tigers returned to the medal stand at Eastern Sprints last month by holding off the reigning champion Cornell Big Red over the final strokes and winning a third straight bronze medal. It may not have been the exact medal they valued, but it doesn’t make it any less meaningful, especially considering the gains they made from an earlier result against silver medalist Columbia.
“Our margin with Columbia at Sprints shows what we have known for a while now, and that's that we have picked up a lot of speed since early season racing,” junior Will Van Cleve said, referring to a gain of nearly five seconds from a prior race with the Lions. “Medals are not easy to come by in this league and I am happy we were able to hold off Cornell and their ferocious charge for third. While I think we executed a solid race and took some nice moves in Worcester, there were some technical gains to be made. We have worked hard since Sprints to make them and we are looking forward to another shot at a championship race this season.”
That championship race is the one Princeton wants to change, as the Tigers have not medaled at the IRAs since winning back-to-back national titles in 2010 and 2011. They are trending upwards — sixth in 2013, fifth in 2014, fourth in 2015 — but they wouldn’t mind skipping a step or two and making a hard challenge at gold when the best lightweight boats in the country meet on Mercer Lake this weekend.
While parity has been the norm in the sport for years, the cream has risen to the top over the last few years. Cornell was the top-seeded crew in each of the last two seasons, and the Big Red ended on top. This year, that distinction belongs to undefeated Yale, which won Sprints by about 2.5 seconds over Columbia and under four over Princeton.
The Bulldogs have topped Princeton twice over the last five weeks, though neither by more than four seconds. They have earned both the top seed and the respect of this Princeton boat, but the Tigers aren’t about to concede anything.
“Yale has set the standard in our league this year,” Van Cleve said. “At this point in the season, we have developed all the pieces necessary to be competitive, but we will need to put them all together flawlessly to dethrone the Bulldogs at Mercer. I am confident in the guys in our boat and the strides we have made since Sprints, so I can't wait to line up this weekend.”
“It's all about attitude,” junior Henry Ogilby added. “We're going to bring our very best. If you asked us to look in the mirror and tell everyone what we see, we see pride, we see power, we see a group of guys who won't take anything from anyone. Our job is to feel the rhythm, feel the "rhyme" of the shell, and when we line up against Yale and Columbia, know that it's rowing time.”
The weekend will begin with Friday morning heats on Mercer Lake. The Tigers will row from Lane 4 at 9:20 and will need a top-three finish against (lane 2) Navy, (3) Columbia and (5) Harvard to move into the national final, scheduled for Sunday at noon.
It will have been three weeks since Sprints, so Princeton has changed up its training a bit to remain fresh, to keep itself sharp, and to have a little fun as it prepared for the biggest weekend in collegiate rowing.
“We mixed it up a bit after Sprints and spent a productive week in straight fours,” Van Cleve said. “The time in fours allowed us to make some technical tweaks, keep the heads fresh, and learn which guys should not be trusted with toe steering.”
Speaking of fours, Princeton will send both a straight four and a coxed four to the IRA Championships as well. Both will compete late Friday morning in heats, with their finals coming early in Sunday’s session. Last year, Princeton's only gold medal from any team came from the lightweight four without coxswain, which Van Cleve was part of.
He'd love nothing more than a matching medal this Sunday.