During his six years as a Princeton rowing head coach, including his current three with the heavyweights, Greg Hughes has been consistent in his message. Work hard, get better and be ready for Eastern Sprints.
Over the last four years, Hughes’ varsity eight has never finished worse than second in the EARC Grand Final. His heavyweights have placed second to Harvard in each of the last two years, and they will be looking for an even better finish this year.
Of course, the challenge will be more daunting this year. Princeton will need to outperform its seed just to make the grand final, much less challenge an unbeaten Harvard and Eastern powers like Brown and Navy, for gold.
The varsity eight went 6-3 on the season, though it suffered each of its losses during consecutive weeks to end the season. Top-seeded Harvard and second-seeded Brown both got wins, while fifth-seeded Cornell took the Carnegie Cup race in Ithaca.
Regardless, the Tigers remain confident that their season-long plan will pay dividends this Sunday.
“I have been pleased with the way that our crew has been growing together,” senior captain Ian Silveira said. “With a younger group of guys this year, there are different challenges we have had to face. I think our crew has really stepped up to those challenges, and we have been progressing steadily throughout the season. Despite the losses late in the season, I think our team as a whole is in a good place heading into Championship racing, and I am excited to see our progress put to the test next weekend at the Eastern Sprints.”
Two-time champion Harvard, which defeated Princeton by 6.7 seconds April 14 for the Compton Cup, will enter the weekend as the favorite once again. Brown, whose only loss is to Harvard and who stands third in the latest national poll, topped Princeton by 7.9 seconds in the April 28 regular season finale for the Content Cup.
But all results will be meaningless when the boats get to the line on Lake Quinsigamond Sunday morning for the three semifinal heats.
“I think the team has made solid progress over the past week since the Content Cup,” senior Michael Evans said. “Guys have come down to the boathouse with the necessary focus and determination to make boats go as fast as possible and consequently the boat has greatly improved upon some our flaws that were highlighted in earlier losses this season.”
Considering how tightly packed the EARC teams have been, especially among many of the hopeful finalists, the three morning heats could provide some thrilling competitions.
“Every year the Eastern Sprints league is a very tight group of very fast crews, and this year is definitely following that trend,” Silveira said. “I think that the heats at the sprints are going to showcase some tight and competitive races which could make them more unpredictable than in years past. No matter what people think and how they rank crews, there is just something about the atmosphere of the Eastern Sprints that causes incredible things to happen.”
If the latest seeding holds, Princeton could see both Harvard and sixth-seeded Northeastern in its morning heat, as well as Dartmouth and Georgetown. Princeton hasn’t faced either Northeastern or Dartmouth, but it could need to beat both to qualify for the grand final.
And if it can reach that final, then anything is possible.
“What makes the Eastern Sprints such a special day is that it’s a rare chance to see how fast our boat is relative to the best crews on the East Coast,” Evans said. “And it is ultimately one of the two races which determines the success of our season.”
Princeton will send three other boats to Sprints, and each should be seeded among the top six. The highest team currently seeded in the EARC is the second varsity, which is 4-3 overall and coming off a huge win over Brown in the season finale. The Tigers beat Brown by 2.8 seconds and is currently fourth, which could set them up for a semifinal rematch with Cornell.
Princeton hasn’t won the EARC Trophy, awarded to the 2V winner, since a four-year stretch of victories between 1996-1999.
Both the third varsity and the freshman eight are seeded sixth. The 3V has dropped three straight to higher-seeded boats and will likely need to hold off Boston University to qualify for the final.
The freshman eight is seeded sixth after going 6-3 during the season. Each of its three losses came to boats in the top four, but it ended the season with a win over ninth-seeded Brown. Like the 3V, the freshman will likely see Boston University in its morning heat.
MORE FROM EVANS & SILVEIRA:
Since the Content Cup race, how focused has the team been on the EARCs, and do you feel big progress has been made over the last week?
Silveira: It was a tough loss for us at the Content Cup, and I think we once again learned some valuable lessons from that race. I think we were able to realistically assess what our goals for the period between that race and the Eastern Sprints were going to be, and every man from the varsity down to the freshman squad has really stepped up the focus. I am proud of the way our team has been able to handle the training session going into the Eastern Sprints, and I think the focus and attitude that guys have been bringing with them down to the boathouse has had a big impact on the entire focus of the team.
Have you been pleased with the development of the boat this season, even with a few tough losses?
Evans: Overall I'd say I have been pleased with the development of the boat this season. In each loss we learned something different about our crew, and what we needed to improve on to make our boat go faster. And what's pleasing is that we haven't fooled ourselves into making excuses for each loss, but rather addressed the fact that our crew had some weaknesses and that we had to address those in training so that we can perform at our best come the Eastern Sprints.
In your experience, what makes the EARC Championships such a special day, and how meaningful was it for you last year to prepare for the grand final?
Silveira: The EARC championships are such a special day because it is the culmination of what we have been training for all year. When we look back on all of the long days and hours we have spent in a boat, on an erg, in the weight room, it all comes down to a handful of 6 minute races. While everyone looks forward to the regular racing season, nothing quite compares to the Sprints. With heats and finals all in
the same day it comes down to a test of a crews willingness to go to the edge. It just carries with it a lot of passion that is hard to capture in any other race we compete in. Every year I get a chance to prepare for the EARC Championships is special and meaningful because of the bond that forms between our crews throughout the year. Last year it was a tight group and I really enjoyed the opportunity to prepare for this race with those guys, just as I have enjoyed the opportunity to prepare with the current team as well. It's what we sacrifice all year for, so it always has a lot of meaning attached to
Do you feel like some of your younger teammates are ready to handle this Sunday, and do you think Princeton is a real contender for the title?
Evans: There's no question in my mind that all my teammates will be able to deliver what they're capable of at the Eastern Sprints. We all recognize what lies in store for us in terms of the speed of the crews we have to face, and appreciate exactly what it's going to take from each of us to get the desired result.