May 10, 2006: Sports
Forceful, fast, and focused
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fast, and focused
By David Baumgarten ’06
When men’s heavyweight crew head coach Curtis Jordan spoke to a group of alumni rowers a few months ago, he didn’t even consider trying to deflate expectations. Instead, he matter-of-factly explained that his team would be satisfied with nothing less than a national championship this spring. “This year,” Jordan told the alumni, “we don’t have any excuses.”
Jordan’s bold pronouncement likely took no one in the room by surprise. Tiger crew cognoscenti have been looking forward to this spring ever since the rowers of the Class of 2006 took Shea Boathouse by storm as freshmen. Under the tutelage of Greg Hughes ’96, now the lightweight head coach, the freshman boat posted an undefeated season, won the Eastern Sprints and the Henley Royal Regatta in England, and consistently turned in faster times than Princeton’s varsity boat.
But while that spring ensured high expectations for the Class of 2006, the work was only beginning. As fast as the freshman boat was, the individual rowers were unrefined. “We were talented as freshmen, but so are a lot of classes,” says Sam Loch ’06, the crew’s stroke. “It’s what you do after that makes the crew.”
Five members of the class — Steve Coppola, Pier de Roo, Mike Gottlieb, Alex Hearne, and Loch — moved into the first varsity boat as sophomores as the process of melding raw talent into a seamless machine continued. After placing fourth at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championships in 2004, Princeton was a clear contender for the national title in 2005. The Tigers proved faster than every crew in the country save one: Harvard, which squeaked by Princeton by just over a second in the IRA final. “Last year was disappointing not to win,” says Jordan, “but it’s improper to say we didn’t realize our potential.”
This year, though, anything short of an IRA title will be difficult to swallow. A sixth member of the Class of 2006, Bill Mongan, has moved into the top boat, along with Will England ’07 and Glenn Ochal ’08. So far, the lineup is clicking. With a four-second victory over Harvard April 15 — Princeton’s first win against the Crimson in Cam-bridge since 1957 — the Tigers established themselves as the boat to beat.
“I’ve been coaching for 29 years, and they’re as good as I’ve seen,” Penn head coach Stan Bergman said after the Tigers crushed his crew on April 8. “They’re used to winning together, and that helps a lot.”
The rowers haven’t just won frequently — they have continually improved. Jordan points out that while several members of the class have lived up to their billing as top recruits, the dramatic strides made by their less-ballyhooed classmates have been just as critical. “These guys made themselves,” he says.
Part of the improvement has been physical: Each individual has made small technical changes, Coppola explains, to bring the boat into sync. Hearne adds, “Our rowing style now is nothing like when we were freshmen.” But the growth also has been mental. Jordan and several of the rowers say they have matured, both individually and as a group. They have become close friends, and yet remained intensely competitive.
That’s where a seventh member of the Class of 2006 comes in. James Egan, the Tigers’ coxswain, has long been the class’s unquestioned leader, steering the freshman boat and moving into the top varsity boat as a sophomore. His election as the crew’s captain this year was the perfect choice, Jordan says with a smile, if for no other reason than his ability to “diffuse the big guys’ egos.” The six “big guys” playfully interrupted and ribbed each other when talking to a reporter after their victory over Penn and Columbia, but once Egan arrived, they fell silent and listened as their leader — who resembles the fictional hobbit Frodo Baggins among the trees — did the talking.
Egan may act as the team’s unified voice, but each rower articulates the team’s mission: to leave the Cooper River in Camden on June 3 as national champions. “We all know what we want,” says Hearne, “and we have one more shot to do it.”
David Baumgarten ’06 is a frequent PAW contributor.
MEN’S HOCKEY goaltender Eric Leroux ’06 was named the winner of the 2006 Hockey Humanitarian Award at the NCAA Frozen Four in Milwaukee April 7. Leroux worked as an HIV counselor and educator in Kenya last summer and volunteered at a malaria clinic in Ecuador the year before. On the ice, he broke the Princeton record for save percentage this season (91.4) and was named first-team All-Ivy.
SOFTBALL senior Erin Snyder made her case to repeat as Ivy Pitcher of the Year by winning her first five Ivy games. In 33 innings, she struck out 70 batters without allowing a walk, and pitched her fourth career perfect game, against Yale April 9. Freshman outfielder Kathryn Welch has led the first-place Tigers at the plate, belting four home runs and driving in 22 runs with a team-high .373 batting average.
BASEBALL swept a four-game series at Columbia April 15 and 16 to take a one-game lead in the Ivy’s Gehrig Division standings.
WOMEN’S WATER POLO won its second consecutive ECAC championship with a 9–6 victory over Bucknell April 2. Karina Reyner ’07 scored seven goals in three ECAC tournament games, and Elyse Colgan ’07 was chosen as the tournament’s most valuable player.
With a 17–6 rout of Penn April 11 and a 9–7 win over Harvard April 15, MEN’S LACROSSE improved to 3–0 in Ivy play.
WOMEN’S LACROSSE edged Yale April 8 and beat Harvard April 15. The Tigers opened 4–0 in Ivy games. Kathleen Miller ’07 scored four goals against Harvard and led Princeton with 22 goals in its first 11 games.
Michael New, who helped revive the WRESTLING team in eight seasons as head coach, resigned April 19.