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Experienced men and women lightweights aim for podium at national championships

20130330-PrincetonvsGtown,Brown,Ohio,Syracuse-3129Coming off a successful Head of the Charles, men have high hopes heading into the season

2010 was the last year that Princeton men’s lightweight crew emerged victorious from the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships. That was the second consecutive title for the program and the first for newly hired head coach Marty Crotty ’98. In the three years since, the lightweight Tigers have placed no better than fifth in what have been highly competitive fields.

This season, having seen their top boat place first at the prestigious Head of the Charles, the team believes it is poised to return to the top spot in the nation.

“Our coaches are confident that we have what it takes to win a national championship,” junior Andrew Frazier explained. “Once we get out on the boats whenever the lake thaws, it’s all about applying the fitness we built and the technique that we started to learn this winter. If it clicks — which is a difficult thing to do — then we should be very strong. But we’re confident.”

Frazier comes from a particularly deep junior class that looks to build its legacy, armed with two seasons of experience. “The senior class,” he began, “despite having some strong guys is just so small in number that the leadership really comes from the junior class.”

According to Frazier, the winter season — ergometer or ergtesting features heavily during the deep Northeast freeze — saw fellow juniors Bowen Peard and Matt Drabick post exceptional times. They will hope to translate that success in the boathouse to success on the water.

Among other standouts from the lower classes, look for freshman Matt Benstead. The accomplished underclassman hails from Twickenham, London, England and competed in the past two Junior World championships. For Princeton, he made his mark by earning a spot on the Head of the Charles varsity eight boat. One more to watch would be sophomore Cameron Howie, a Canadian standout from British Columbia’s St. George’s School and three-time national champion. He likewise contributed to the winning effort at the Head of the Charles.

The culture of lightweight crew is characterized by a mix of recruited and walk-on athletes as much as, if not more than, any varsity sport. Frazier, a walk-on himself, spoke to the way in which new rowers can make an impact.

“Matt Drabick and myself were the two novices from our class who have stuck around,” he explained. “Drabick has made incredible strides in his ERG tests. He just posted a 6:14 2K, which was the third-fastest ERG on Saturday. He’s close to record-setting numbers. For a guy that came out of high school having never touched an oar, he’s a stellar athlete, and he has demonstrated incredible depths of fitness. If he applies this on the oar, he will be a total stud.”

Players set the marks on the water, but the coaches get them there. Crotty earned a pair of national titles during his time at Princeton and looks to get back there with the addition of assistant coach Bill Manning. Harvard passed over Manning, a longtime and highly respected assistant, for its heavyweight head coaching position this past year. He brings a high level of rowing IQ to the Lake Carnegie Boathouse.

“Bill Manning is outstanding,” Frazier said. “He’s one of the best coaches in the league and perhaps in the rowing world. The experience he brings and the analytical coaching style is a perfect complement to energetic, fitness-based coaching that Marty provides. Together they make a kickass team. One gets us fit, and the other gets us thinking.”

After the conclusion of what you could more or less call a regular season with five races against Ivy and nearby competition, the team will turn its attention to the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges Championships. Rowed customarily in Worcester, Mass., the last two sprint titles have gone to the Yale Bulldogs. The goal for the Tigers will be nothing less than the Jope Cup, a team trophy awarded at the event.

“As long as every boat is winning, I’m happy,” Frazier noted of the regional competition. “And we think every boat can win.”

About an hour by car separates our campus from Cooper River Lake, the site of the 2010 finals where the Tigers’ top eight set a course record in a convincing victory. A drive of less than 20 minutes will take you from Nassau Hall to Mercer Lake.

“It’s going to be fantastic to have the IRAs at Mercer Lake,” Frazier said. “It’s not as much of a rowing course as Chula Vista in Sacramento, Calif., where the IRAs were last year, but it’s no hassle. It’s practically a home meet, and that’s a massive advantage for Princeton rowing.”

The convenience of rowing locally also means that the team will have the opportunity to attend the last night of Reunions. If all goes according to plan, the side will celebrate a successful season among fellow generations of proud Princetonians.

In regards to community, the combined Princeton crew totals nearly 150 rowers. Frazier spoke about the camaraderie built in sharing both a boathouse and an experience.

“That builds a pretty awesome community,” he began. “When you put all four teams together, it’s the biggest team on campus. That basically means it’s impossible to have a class without another rower in it. That kind of community is a really nice asset to have.”

Lightweight crew will not begin spring competition until after break. It will have its first home event at Lake Carnegie against Georgetown for the Fosburgh Cup on March 29.

Women will face stiff West Coast competition in title chase

The conclusion of October proved incredibly busy for women’s lightweight crew, as the Tigers raced at the Head of the Charles and followed it up with a week of midterm exams. But the women ended the month and their fall season in impressive fashion, as they won the lightweight competition in the Princeton Chase regatta. The Tigers now head into the spring season looking to build on the momentum that carried them to a winning time of 16:04.498 in the lightweight 8+ competition back on Oct. 27 at Lake Carnegie.

While the Tigers’ first regular season race is still a month away, plenty of stirring has been going on in the boathouse as of late. Sophomore Emily Wiebe, a member of the varsity eight boat that finished fifth at the IRA National Championships last spring, expressed early excitement at preseason testing that recently took place.

“Right now, we’re really looking forward to being back on the water because as a team, we’re excited and motivated for spring racing,” Wiebe said. “We had our boathouse-wide Crash P’s indoor competition this past Saturday, which gave us encouraging fitness results from the training we’ve been putting in this winter working specifically on our power endurance. We’ve also been spending two days a week in the tanks working on rhythm and technique. Since we don’t really have an ‘off-season,’ our goal to be back on the podium at national championships has remained the same since September.”

As encouraging as early testing results have been, the rush of midterms and spring break will place the Tigers just a couple weeks out of their first race in no time, which will be at the San Diego Crew Classic in California.

“I’m most excited for the San Diego Crew Classic, which is our season opener,” Wiebe said. “Not only do we get to go to the West Coast, but we get an early test against Stanford, the four-time reigning national champions. It’s a really large regatta with junior, collegiate, open and masters events and many athletes, which gives it an exciting atmosphere as well. Also, I’m excited for our home race against Radcliffe because we have a chance to win back the Class of 1999 Cup on our home course.”

With five underclassmen in the boat that placed fifth at nationals last spring, the Tigers will be returning most of their rowers on a boat that will look to outgun its competition at the national championships. The title race will be held at West Windsor, NJ, from May 31 to June 1.

“We only graduated two rowers and our coxswain from the first boat last spring, so we have a much more experienced squad heading into this season,” Wiebe said. “We also have an extremely impressive, strong and motivated class of three freshman recruits who have already had a huge impact on the team and are looking to make their mark as racing starts up. We always have to look to Stanford and the standard they’ve set in winning the past four national titles and the fact that they have been on the water all winter since it doesn’t freeze in northern California. That said, all of the East Coast and Midwest teams have been getting the training in on the ergs and in the weight rooms this winter, so it really will be anyone’s game by the time June rolls around.”

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