Lightweight Women Head To IRAs After Quality Post-Sprints Production
The Princeton lightweight women believe in their chances for a strong second season, and they are excited to show their gains at the 2016 IRA Championships this weekend at Mercer Lake.
When the Tigers opened their 2016 schedule against Radcliffe, they were admittedly a new, young boat trying to overcome both injuries and inexperience against one of the strongest fields ever in lightweight women’s rowing.
Head coach Paul Rassam tested his rowers constantly over five weeks; following the Radcliffe race, the Tigers went to California to race Stanford and Boston University, and then they faced the best boats in the East at Sprints in early May.
Those five weeks were Step 1. The next five weeks — the ones between Sprints and the IRA Championships — were Step 2, and Princeton felt very good about that one.
“We’ve had an incredibly productive few weeks of training, in large part due to the high level of focus and commitment from the rowers in the wake of our Sprints race,” said junior coxswain Megan Mirabella, who has led the 1V to IRAs each year of her Princeton career. “Starting with the first day of IRAs training, we had concretely defined our technical goals of more length and rhythm, and our power goal of improved base speed, and everyone really stepped up to work at these every single practice. That, in combination with Paul’s quality- over quantity-centered training plan, has led to many highly focused and effective rows for us, and as a result I honestly think we are the strongest and most technically efficient we have been all season.”
Princeton is the fifth seed entering this weekend’s championships, and it has been forced to take the long route to the national final over the last two years. Mirabella would definitely love to see that change this year, and it would likely need to come at the expense of fourth-seeded Wisconsin — the same boat that has knocked the Tigers into reps in prior years.
“Being able to demonstrate our improvements since Sprints with an assertive first race early in the regatta would be an amazing way to surprise the field,” she said. “However, we’ve learned over the past few years that we’re most prepared when we expect to race three times. Avoiding an added race is always beneficial for the extra recovery time it allows, but Paul’s focus since our winter training has been on developing a quick cardiovascular recovery rate, meaning that after one aerobic threshold effort our bodies are now able to match the original performance within a shorter time.
"Additionally, our training since Sprints has been based on quality over quantity, often meaning that we do multiple hard practices in a row. So despite our hope of surprising the field early with an assertive first race, I’m also confident that we’re physiologically ready to handle reps if we need to.”
Princeton will learn its fate in the first race Saturday morning, when it takes on No. 1 Stanford and No. 4 Wisconsin in the opening heat. A top-two finish would send Princeton directly to Sunday’s 11:40 national championship race; if the Tigers take third, they will need a top-two finish in Saturday’s late-morning repechage. Should form hold in the other semifinal, the Tigers would likely see MIT and Georgetown in that race.
Ultimately, Princeton just needs to qualify for the finals to have a chance at the championship. As recently as 2014, the Tigers have gone from the repechage to pushing the pace in the final, and Mirabella is confident in her boat’s potential to surprise again.
“Our field is small but incredibly fast, and our goal over the past month was to demonstrate that even during our difficult years we are still in league with the likes of Wisconsin, Radcliffe, BU, and Stanford,” Mirabella said. “I’m confident that we are better equipped now than at any other point this season to be in contention with those crews, and I’m so excited for us to demonstrate our improvement by fighting it out with them on Lake Mercer.
“The collective tangible step up in focus from each rower has been a great confidence builder because of the concrete gains it has enabled,” she added. “Our freshmen, Madelynn Prendergast and Grace Cordsen, have brought an inspiring amount of contagious spirit to the boat over the past few weeks, and our stroke seat Juliette Hackett has been instrumental in our technical progress as a boat. I’m really proud of our focus and progress as a boat over the past few weeks, and I know we’ll demonstrate that improvement in our results this weekend.”
Princeton will also send a four and a pair into the weekend, which will allow Rassam to have even more rowers gain experience at the biggest collegiate regatta of the year. For instance, freshman Heather Milke has built off the extra training time, and her four is rounding into strong shape for the weekend.
“I have been extremely pleased with the gains we have made in the four in the last month, especially because the four is a new boat for us coming out of Sprints, where we were all in eights,” she said. “We have a lot of strength in our boat, and we’ve made huge strides, working on technique to use that strength effectively. We continue to work on ‘owning our speed,’ as Coach Kate McCormick puts it. I am really proud of the individual technical progress that everyone has made, and how that has made us more collected as a boat.
“I think that our entire boat is excited for the challenge of facing this field,” Milke added. “The leadership in our boat really comes from a collective, positive energy that we all feed off of. Emily [Schneider] is infectiously dynamic and confident. Katie [Mirabella] and Becca [Singer] are always encouraging, constantly looking for ways to make the boat run better. Teresa [Rufin] has been doing a fantastic job at keeping our boat aggressive and ensuring that we are holding ourselves to a high standard. It is exciting and a big confidence boost to be rowing with Teresa and Becca, who are veterans of the IRA four.”