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All season, the Princeton men’s lightweights have talked about how tightly packed their league was, and how every detail would matter on the race to the postseason medal dock.
That was proven true at Sprints, when the difference between a gold medal and fourth place was less than 2.5 seconds.
And there is certainly no reason to expect otherwise this Sunday at the IRA Championships.
Princeton was one of the teams that reached the medal dock, as the Tigers finally solved the Columbia riddle to earn a bronze medal by less than .3 of a second. While simply getting back on the medal dock was both important and exciting, the team has a different medal in mind this weekend.
“The final at Eastern Sprints was our most complete piece thus far,” junior Casey Ward said. “While we would have liked to win we were happy that we were able to stick to our plan and execute when it counted. It was a tight race that helped to instill confidence in our base speed and we have worked hard to build off this in the sessions leading up to the IRA.”
Unlike the other three Princeton rowing teams, the championship experience is a one-day event for the men’s lightweights. Princeton will row in Lane 4 of Heat 2 at 8:10 am Sunday morning, joining MIT (2), Yale (3) and Dartmouth (5). Beating at least one of those teams guarantees the Tigers a spot in the 12:20 final, where they can probably expect to see Sprints champion Cornell, reigning champion Harvard and their old friend Columbia; in three races with the Lions this season, the average margin of victory has been about .9 of a second.
So it’s still all about the details, and Princeton has been focused there since the Sprints final on May 18.
“We have really been focusing on individual technical changes that we believe will yield increases in speed,” Ward said. “Every guy has been committed to working to find an extra 1% within themselves both technically and physically to increase our baseline. We’ve had a number of great practices that have shown that we are really moving together and becoming a more polished crew which is an exciting feeling as we approach the national championship.”
Top-seeded Cornell will enter the weekend as the deserving favorites, after both a perfect regular season and the Sprints title. But Princeton cut two seconds off its final deficit to the Big Red from the Platt Cup (April 12) to Sprints, and another big jump could lead the Tigers to their ninth IRA national championship.
With younger teams — there isn’t a single senior in either the Princeton V8 or V4 competing at Mercer Lake — it’s impossible to know how they will react at IRAs. Will inexperience overwhelm them, or will a lack of pressure allow them to race freely.
Ward believes in the latter.
“I think the fact that the crew is really young helps us to throw caution to the wind a little more and row with an unbridled sense of enthusiasm,” he said. “The energy the younger guys bring is both admirable and exciting. I would say that this crew has managed to turn what might be seen as inexperience into a strength and has thrived off the added challenge.”
He would know best. In a season filled with challenges, Princeton has shown improvement from one week to the next. How much have they improved, and will it be enough?
They can’t wait to find out.