The top-ranked Princeton men's lightweight crew completed a perfect postseason and repeated as IRA national champion in style Saturday morning on a blistering-fast Cooper River race course in Cherry Hill, N.J. Princeton set a course record to hold off a hard-charging Navy boat to win the final race of the 2010 season.
Not only did the victory extend the lightweights' dominance to two years, but it also extended an amazing streak at Princeton. The victory was the first national championship — team or individual — of the academic year; Princeton has now won at least one national title in each of the last 24 years.
After surging past Harvard to win the 2010 EARC/Ivy League title three weeks ago, Princeton entered Saturday's grand final as the favorite. One year after dominating the field from start to finish, Princeton knew that nothing would be a given this season — especially with the likes of Harvard, Yale and Navy lurking in the field.
"It's much easier being the underdog," said senior James Donovan, one of two varsity eight rowers who graduated this past week. "It's tough being favored, but you just to keep a level head. We put a lot of work in to be here.
"We felt like we won Sprints on pure grit," said Donovan, a two-time All-Ivy selection and a member of the Royal Henley regatta champion in 2009. "We didn't want to lose to Harvard after HYP weekend. Since then, we worked on getting clean. We felt if we rowed our race, we'd do well."
First-year head coach Marty Crotty, who said afterwards he almost never talks about times, said that he sent the team off with one message. Row in 5:36, and nobody will catch you.
They did, and nobody else caught them.
Princeton won the 2010 IRA national title in a course-record time of 5:36.07, while Navy used a late sprint to move past Harvard for second place. The Midshipmen finished second in 5:37.06, while Harvard finished third in 5:38.02. Yale, Georgetown, Dartmouth and Penn rounded out the rest of the field in Saturday's grand final, the only men's lightweight race of the 2010 IRA regatta.
The Tigers got out to an early lead, but Harvard drew even around the 400-meter mark. Princeton pulled ahead again and led at the midway point, but the Crimson made a second big more and drew even around the 1100-meter mark. The Tigers knew that something big was coming, though; they prepared for one big move at the 1250-meter mark.
"We knew we had to make a move that made Harvard race for second place," said senior captain Jack Leonard, who shared the Roper Cup two weeks ago as the top male athlete in the Class of 2010. "We had to make them decide that second place would be OK, because it wasn't going to be OK for us.
"You can't go into a race thinking anything less than gold is OK," said Leonard, who joined Donovan on two years' worth of championship teams. "If first place isn't going to be that important to you, than you won't have what it takes in that final 750."
Princeton made a big surge during the third split and held a multiple-seat edge coming down the stretch. By the final 250, Navy was battling Harvard for second and Princeton was battling a course record. That smooth form Princeton searched for over the last three weeks remained in the final stretch and the Tigers pushed through for the record.
"This is a fast course," said Crotty, who dealt with the highest of standards after Greg Hughes took over the heavyweight program and led Princeton back to the top. "You have to prepare for speed. You have to row quicker, smoother. I told the guys to end it with a win so they could smile the whole summer."
IRA GRAND FINAL1 - Princeton (5:36.07)
2 - Navy (5:37.06)
3 - Harvard (5:38.02)
4 - Yale (5:39.26)
5 - Georgetown (5:42.06)
6 - Dartmouth (5:52.23)
7 - Penn (5:53.83)
PRINCETON VARSITY EIGHT
Cox—Michael Perl (Jr., Princeton Junction, N.J.)
Stroke—Robin Prendes (Jr., Miami, Fla.)
7—Jack Leonard (Sr., Blue Bell, Pa.)
6—James Donovan (Sr., Easton, Conn.)
5—Christian Klein (Jr., Hendon, Va.)
4—Gianthomas Volpe (So., Napoli, Italy)
3—Barrett LaChance (Jr., Guilford, Conn.)
2—Alex Rubert (So., Garden City, N.Y.)
Bow—Nick Donald (Jr., Seattle, Wash.)