Lori Dauphiny has a lot of fond memories throughout her time as the head coach of Princeton Open Rowing. Her last NCAA Championship competition at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis doesn’t make the list.
“My last experience here was brutal and devastating,” Dauphiny said of Princeton’s seventh-place team finish at the 2003 Championships. “We had a senior-laden team, and we just had a tough time. It’s a rough, wide open course, and we’re going to have to tough it out.”
The 2013 Ivy League champion Princeton Tigers will be looking to give Dauphiny a much better memory this weekend when they compete for the program’s first NCAA team championship. Three individual boats have won NCAA gold in the past, including the 2011 varsity eight, but the team has yet to walk away with the biggest trophy of all.
This Princeton team won’t be favored this year, but it does have the kind of depth to put itself into championship contention for Sunday’s final session. The varsity eight is seeded second overall (behind USC) and is coming off its victory May 19 at the Ivy League championships, as well as a fourth-place finish at last year’s NCAA Championships.
“Every year is different, but I think the positive experiences from last year’s NCAAs will help,” Dauphiny said. “Still, it’s a different year and a different dynamic.”
Dynamic is a good word to use for this varsity eight, which includes four seniors, as well as three members from the 2011 NCAA gold medal-winning varsity eight (Molly Hamrick ’13, Kelsey Reelick ’14 and Heidi Robbins ’13). The boat has lost once all season, and it won the Ivy title by a comfortable margin on Cooper River.
The varsity eight will open the NCAA Championships in the 9:20 opening heat, which will be joined by Boston University, Stanford, UCLA and Brown. The top two will advance to the semifinals (Saturday at 8:50/9 am), while the rest will move to afternoon reps.
The varsity eight gold medal final will be Sunday morning at 10:50.
One boat that is as ready as any to get back to racing is the second varsity eight. After a perfect run through the Ivy League season,
Princeton finished third at the Ivy League Championships. The second varsity enters the weekend as the sixth seed and will have a 10:10 am heat Friday morning against third-seeded Southern California and 11th-seeded Notre Dame, as well as Oklahoma, Gonzaga and Marist. The top two will compete in either the 9:30 or 9:40 Saturday semifinal.
The second varsity gold medal final will be Sunday at 10:30 am.
The varsity four is the only Princeton boat seeded outside the top six, meaning it will need to knock off at least one higher-seeded boat to return to the grand final. The four placed third at the Ivy League Championships, and it will compete at 10:40 am Friday against second-seeded Ohio State and 10th-seeded USC, as well as Rhode Island and Stanford. The top two will advance to either the 10:10 or 10:20 semifinals on Saturday; the gold medal final will be Sunday at 10:10 am.
Princeton is one of three programs (including Brown and Washington) to compete at every NCAA Championship regatta since the inaugural event in 1997, and it has placed in the top five of the team competition eight times. The 1997 squad finished second, while both the 2006 and 2010 teams finished third. The 1999, 2011 and 2012 squads took fourth, while the 2001 and 2005 teams finished fifth.
Despite all that history, the feeling of returning to the national championships never gets old to Dauphiny.
“The team is excited, and we’re taking it all in,” she said. “We’re seeing some new teams, and a lot of them have friends at other schools, so it can be a reunion for them.”
She knows her rowers will be ready come Friday, especially in conditions that will demand both mental and physical toughness.
From there, she’ll just hope this weekend can give Dauphiny a whole new feeling about Eagle Creek Park.