Bulldog rowers roll at Princeton Chase

The Yale crew teams were rude houseguests last Sunday in the annual Princeton Chase. Both the men’s and the women’s teams beat their Tiger counterparts, establishing Bulldog supremacy in hostile waters.

The men’s team, finishing off a season where it reemerged as a regional power, knocked off a vaunted Princeton program that was defending runner-up at last year’s national championships. The Elis built on last week’s success at the Head of the Charles and finished the Chase in an impressive 14:04.27, comfortably dispatching the Tigers by a 13.8 second margin. Although the women’s race was much closer, the Elis avenged last week’s fifth-place finish in Boston by beating a Princeton team that had outstroked them the week before.

The Princeton Chase has a reputation for being one of the year’s hardest races. The Chase follows the grueling Head of the Charles, the fall season’s most prestigious racing event, in the last week of October and is typically characterized by difficult weather conditions. This year was no exception, as the Bulldogs had to fight against either a direct wind or a crosswind for most of the race. Varsity stroke Hunter Swartz ’07 attributed the men’s team’s success in Lake Carnegie’s adverse conditions to its strong commitment and focus.

“The Chase is always a challenging race,” he said. “You peak for the Charles, and you have to peak again the next week for another race. The reason we had a good result was because of good focus, a good race plan and good execution.”

The victory at the Chase was heavyweight coach John Pescatore’s first in his four-year tenure at Yale and was a clear indication of the progress that the program has made during his time here. This year was the first in which every rower has been recruited and handpicked by Pescatore, and team members acknowledge that the impact has been impressive. Liam Beedling ’08 said recruiting is one of his coach’s greatest strengths.

“Pescatore is a pretty big name in U.S. Rowing,” Beedling said. “His status as a former world champion and former Olympian adds brand-name credibility to the program. Prospective high school students dreaming of the Olympics want to row for a coach that can put them on the right path, and John Pescatore definitely knows what it takes to be a top-level rower.”

The Elis’ victory in Boston last week over the University of California, the defending national collegiate champion, and this week’s performance against Princeton have raised expectations considerably and have established the Bulldogs as a favorite heading into the spring season.

“The win was a major confidence booster, and now Yale is one of the crews to beat,” Beedling said. “Other teams will be gunning to beat us.”

While the Princeton Chase marked the end of the competitive fall season for the varsity team, a winter of intense practices awaits the team. The Elis will spend the offseason continuing the work they started earlier in the year.

“We’re going to be focusing on the same areas: making technical changes to our strokes and our rowing styles, increasing our fitness and our strength, and fixing all the little gaps,” Swartz said.

The women’s team followed last week’s fifth-place finish at the Head of the Charles’ Championship Eights event with a strong showing at the Princeton Chase. The first varsity boat finished in second place, edging out Princeton by a slim half-second margin. Although the University of Virginia won the event, the Bulldogs managed to outstroke a powerful Princeton team that had beaten the Elis the previous week. Yale demonstrated its exceptional depth by placing three of its four boats in the top twenty. The Bulldogs’ second varsity boat placed sixth overall and outraced many schools’ first varsity boats.

The Princeton Chase was an important warm-up for next week’s Yale Invitational. The race demonstrated the importance of getting off to a fast start, something that the Elis will focus on in the upcoming week.

“Right now, we have a really strong team, but we’re going to need to improve technically as well as improve our fitness,” Tess Gerrand ’10 said. “Our plan is to develop a really fast first 1000 meters. Our coach checked the results from the latest world champs and most crews that won were ahead by the 1000 meter mark.”

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