Women's Lightweights Ready To Show Progress Sunday At Eastern Sprints
For Juliette Hackett and her women’s lightweight teammates, the Lake Quinsigamond starting line on Sunday may be the first time she’s felt even with the rest of the Eastern field — even if nobody else in the race feels the same way.
It has been an uphill battle from the start for Princeton, which dealt with numerous early-season injuries against a front-loaded schedule. The Tigers took their lumps for sure, but Hackett, who has stroked the varsity boat since her freshman season, tried to keep those lumps in perspective.
“My personal philosophy is to not let the highs get too high or the lows get too low,” she said. “I think that’s a great way to make sure you can persevere through adversity, but also when you have those small accomplishments, you can take them and feel satisfied, but also use them as fuel moving forward.”
Princeton lost its season opener to Radcliffe, the 2014 IRA national champion. It lost the next weekend to Stanford, which has won every other IRA title this decade besides the 2014 one. But through those races, Hackett’s focus was on one boat, and one boat only.
“We really advanced, and have worked to keep that forward momentum going,” she said. “Even if you’re down, you’re always moving forward, you’re always trying to get fractions of a second back. We went out with guns blazing and tried to make the statement that, by the end of the season, we would be in a better place than we were at the time.”
This isn’t quite the end of the season, but it is Eastern Sprints weekend for the lightweight women, and an opportunity to win their first postseason gold medal since 2011. The challenge is a daunting one, as Boston University, Wisconsin and Harvard each own top-four spots in the national rankings, and deservedly so. They showed their speed early this season.
But that speed from April won’t mean a thing when the calendar turns to May.
“That’s the beauty of rowing in a lot of ways,” Hackett said. “People like to make predictions, people like to make rankings, but it’s anybody’s race when you’re out on the course. You start even. There aren’t miracles on race day, you just want to string together all of your best performances that you’ve had at practice and go out there and perform.
“We hope this weekend becomes that kind of race, where it becomes a battle of spirit, confidence and belief that you can win.”
Hackett has some experience with that. At the 2015 IRA Championships, Princeton needed to race both a semifinal and a repechage just to reach the championship final. The expected duel between Stanford and Radcliffe took an unexpected early twist when Princeton forced themselves into the championship picture for 1,000 meters.
“We had a thrilling, highly satisfying race at IRAs, and even though we ended up just short of a medal … you can take those moments and remember that feeling,” Hackett said. “When you’re an underdog and people aren’t expecting much of you, that’s always an advantage. You can surprise people. The other teams will be focused on each other, so maybe they’ll write us off. We’re going to swing big and try to surprise them.”
Ultimately, that has been the calling card for Princeton in recent postseasons. Even when the Tigers haven’t had the depth of talent to fully match up with the elite boats, they have swung mightily.
Where they fit with the best Eastern speed will be shown this weekend. Maybe they’ve made the leap. Maybe they need more time and can do it at IRAs.
But this team will swing. This team will race.