June 1, 2010
PRINCETON, N.J. - The sun was cresting over the treeline on Lake Carnegie as the Huskies began moving their boats into the water. It was early Tuesday morning at the Princeton boathouse, the temporary East Coast base for the Washington men's crew team as they prep for the IRA Championships, which run June 3-5 on the Cooper River.
For much of its history, the IRAs have had a permanent home in New Jersey, although last year's finals were held in California. And Washington has historically made its way out to the Garden State a few days early, taking advantage of the rowing facilities at Princeton to train. Every year, like clockwork, the coaches would drive the trailer across the country and then meet the team to resume workouts. The trailers arrived on Friday, while the student-athletes filtered breezed in Saturday afternoon.
This year is no different. Far from home in Seattle, the Huskies have once again turned this quaint college town into a late-season training camp, with designs on capturing a second straight National Championship. The tradition began in 1923, when the UW first competed in the IRA Championships in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. To prepare, the Huskies trained in Princeton to acclimate to the East Coast. It's been a part of Husky rowing ever since.
"Princeton has always opened their doors for us," said men's coach Michael Callahan. "They've historically been very receptive when we visit. They're great hosts."
For example, the Washington coaching staff has access to slings, launches and other equipment. The course on Carnegie Lake has buoyed lanes. There's an area to store boats, making it an easy transition from hotel to practice.
Once on the water, the goal was not fitness. Rather the team has to be sharp technically to execute all corners of their race plan.
During the morning practice, Callahan preached finding a connection with the water. This seems elementary for elite rowers such as the Huskies, but often it's an important reminder in a sport that's equal parts power and technique. Callahan broke the row down into basic parts, and often instructed his rowers to relax. Later that day, the Huskies flexed their muscles and performed some speed work.
"It's a nice training camp feel," Callahan said. "You're trying to make the boat feel good and gain some confidence. The guys are starting to taper down now and get sharper, and they're feeling the effort of all the hard days of practice we've had."
Washington is not the only team that takes advantage of Princeton's facilities.
This time of year on Lake Carnegie, it's a veritable who's who of top-notch crews. During their morning row, the Huskies rowed past No. 2 Cal, which is also using the boathouse as an East Coast base. On the way back to the docks, it was the U.S. men's national team that whizzed by doing a piece.
And while Seattle is one of the pre-eminent destinations for prep rowers, Princeton is the eventual goal for many collegiate athletes. It's the home of USRowing, meaning if you're competing for a spot on the national team, you're most likely living and training in Princeton. Therefore, it's not a shock to grab coffee in the morning and bump into an ex-Washington rower. Princeton was Callahan's home for seven years while he competed internationally, and he considers this area a "second home," a fact he used when he debated the quality of the local restaurant scene with a UW staffer.
With so many ex-oarsmen and women here, it's no surprise the area is Husky friendly. Following the evening row, several student-athletes and coaches caravanned to ex-coxswain Katelin Snyder's house, just minutes from the Princeton boathouse. Snyder lives here in town training with the National Team, and she greeted the team with an elaborate BBQ.
On Wednesday morning, the team will perform one last row on Carnegie before moving their camp south to Cherry Hill. Come Thursday, dress rehearsal ends.
"We want to peak here," Callahan said. "What I hope for our student-athletes have the kind of races they remember for a lifetime. They trained really hard for it, and you want it to come together on the right day and the right time."