Reigning Ivy, NCAA Champ Tigers Opens New Journey Saturday vs. Top 10 Foes
ALL-TIME RESULTS IN THE CLASS OF 1987 TROPHY COMPETITION
One year after winning the program’s second NCAA title in six years, Princeton open crew head coach Lori Dauphiny is optimistic about the potential for the 2012 Princeton Tigers, who will open their season Saturday morning with a home regatta against both Brown and Michigan on Bud Smith Race Course. (Full schedule for Saturday morning is available at the bottom of this preview)
But she is also realistic about the possibility that it may take the current Tiger squad, ranked third in the CRCA/USRowing Coaches Preseason Poll, a bit more time to reach its ceiling.
Normally, that would go without saying. Crews all over the nation target the postseason (including this one, which will have a new twist for Princeton), and they take their losses throughout the growth process.
Princeton, however, has taken a different approach. Two years ago, the Tigers were perfect throughout the regular season and missed an Eastern title by less than one second. Driven to amend that finish, last year’s program grabbed the No. 1 spot in the rankings and never let go. After a perfect regular season, the varsity eight won both the Eastern/Ivy League title by more than four seconds.
And then the Tigers went to Sacramento for their 15th straight invitation to the NCAA Championships, and they topped the field for a 1V gold.
While Princeton had the best boat in the nation throughout 2011, it also proved to have one of the deepest teams in the country. At the Eastern Sprints, Princeton swept gold in the 1V, 2V, V4 and 3V competitions; Dauphiny gives a lot of credit to assistant coaches Helen Goodroad and Kristin Haraldsdottir for having all boats performing at an optimum level.
“That was just an exceptional year, and we will certainly miss that senior class this season,” Dauphiny said. “I think the fact that we won all four events helps us carry some confidence into the year. They understand throughout the ranks that every boat matters.”
All that success brings deserved pride and recognition to the program, but it can also put extra pressure on a program that lost a significant chunk of its NCAA-winning varsity eight.
“We have a fairly untested squad right now,” said Dauphiny during the preseason. “The erg scores have been good, and they are learning a lot of lessons. I am hoping they learn something from every practice.”
That type of learning curve was evident in the fall. After a sixth-place performance at the Head of the Charles, Princeton bounced back one week later to top all its Ivy opponents in the Princeton Chase.
Dauphiny still has a number of rowers from last year’s EAWRC championship boats to depend on, and that group starts with senior captain Kelly Pierce. She and coxswain Lila Flavin were the lone juniors in a 2011 1V that featured four seniors, including Von Kienbusch Award recipient Lauren Wilkinson ’11.
“Kelly is doing very well this year as our captain,” Dauphiny said of her captain, who joined fellow 1V rower Heidi Robbins ’13 on the W8+ at last summer’s U23 World Championships in Amsterdam. The pair helped the U.S. win bronze, while Wilkinson led the Canadian 8+ to gold.
Catherine Parkhurst ’11 was the only senior in either the 2V or V4 from last year, so Dauphiny does have a host of rowers who know what it takes to win gold at Sprints. Juniors Gabby Cole and Nicole Bielawski were both part of the victorious 2V at EAWRCs, and they were each selected to the U.S. team at the U23 Worlds.
So there is talent in the program, and Dauphiny believes that it could come together in time to be very dangerous by the postseason. But without nearly the same chemistry that the 2010 and 2011 boats opened their seasons with (and they helped Princeton to its current 27-race regular season win streak), she also understands that it may have to take a few lumps along the journey.
“I can see how, on paper, we are a target because of what we did last year,” she said. “But this is a different team. There is room for greater skill and speed here.”
Much like its championship-winning season of 2006, Princeton won’t have to travel far from home this year. The Tigers open with four of their first five regattas at home, and the lone road competition will take place in Philadelphia on the Schuylkill.
And that will be the final time Princeton will leave the Garden State.
After the April 28 season finale against Tennessee, Princeton will have two weeks to prepare for the Ivy League Sprints, held May 13 at Cooper River. Unlike past years, when Ivy teams dominated the EAWRC Championships, the May 13 competition will feature Ivy teams only. It will set up the 2013 Ivy Championships, which will award an automatic qualifier to the NCAAs.
Two weeks later, the best boats in the nation will head to nearby West Windsor, N.J., and Mercer Lake for the NCAA Championships. This will be the first NCAA meet since 2006, when Princeton won the national title by more than six seconds.
Dauphiny sees a deep and talented Ivy League that will test Princeton throughout the regular season. Brown and Yale will continue to be strong programs, while Harvard could be much stronger this season. Both Cornell and Dartmouth are also crews to watch, though Dauphiny’s eyes will mostly be focused on her own boats.
She knows that what she sees in the March 24 season opener could be vastly different than what she sees May 13 at the Ivy Sprints. If the team continues to show the work and determination it has already shown, that would be a very exciting prospect for Dauphiny, the 2011 National Coach of the Year.
Princeton will face a challenging test Saturday against a pair of Top 10 teams, including annual Ivy League title contender Brown. Princeton comes in to the weekend ranked third, while Brown is one spot below in the poll. Michigan is currently ranked ninth.
Saturday's schedule is as follows:
9:00 • V4+B
9:20 • 3V
9:40 • V4+A
10:00 • 2V
10:20 • 1V for the Class of 1987 Trophy Brown-Princeton
There is a link atop the page for the new "Information Central" page for women's open crew. It is a one-stop home for all interested in the program, and it includes several links related to both the past and present of Princeton open rowing.
Included in the past highlights are all-time letterwinners and results, all-time results in Princeton's annual "Cup" competitions, and Princeton's history in the postseason, the Olympics, and the Royal Henley Regatta.
Present links include those to the roster, schedule and results, as well as to the team site, the official women's open Twitter feed, and several other aspects of the program.
The link to the Information Central page will remain in the gray bar at the top of the open crew page.