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Deep heavyweight men hope for repeat of '96

In 1997, men's heavyweight crew went undefeated in the regular season for the first time since 1881 and won Eastern Sprints by an open water margin. The lightweights went 6-1, suffering their first regular season loss in four years, and took third at Easterns.

Princeton did not finish the season as well as it expected, however, as the heavyweights finished fifth at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Regatta, while the lightweights took home a bronze medal.

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Most men's crew programs would consider that a successful campaign, but as lightweight head coach Joe Murtaugh said, "Our goal is always to win the (IRA) championship."

Entering the spring season, Princeton has its sight set on another run at the IRAs. Once again, anything short of a national championship will leave the team unfulfilled.

Driven

"I want to repeat last year's success when we were undefeated in the regular season and won Easterns," heavyweight head coach Curtis Jordan said. "But (the fifth place at nationals) was extremely disappointing."

Princeton will be one of the favorites to win each title, but it is by no means a lock. In the USRowing heavyweight preseason poll, the Tigers are ranked third behind last year's champ Washington, and California.

"No. 3 is most likely correct," Jordan said. "They have very strong teams, and we're definitely in there somewhere."

Both the lightweight and the heavyweight boats fared well this fall at the Head of the Charles, an important regatta in Boston which serves as a good indicator of the upcoming season. The heavyweights took third behind the U.S. National Team and Harvard. The lightweights took a deceiving 17th.

No passing zone

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The Tigers started behind a club team and caught it after a mere 20 strokes. When the club team's boat would not yield, the lightweights tried to pass, collided with it and was assessed a penalty of one minute. Without that penalty, the Tigers would have finished 11 seconds ahead of the winning boat from Yale, in record time.

"It shows that we can row head races really fast," Murtaugh said. "Now, we need to row the shorter 2,000-meter races fast, too. There's a long way to go to win the championship."

The lightweights return seven of eight rowers from last year's first boat, while the heavyweights return six of their first eight. Both teams boast a tremendous amount of depth in addition to those returning, and neither coach has named his first eight for the spring.

"Not all of (the seven returnees) will be in the first boat," Murtaugh said. "We're going to play around with it a little bit the next week and a half before the Georgetown race."

Candidates aplenty

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"This is the deepest team that I've seen in my years at Princeton, which makes it tough to choose the eight," Jordan said. "I've got 10 seniors here that brought this team to a national championship level."

Jordan said he expected to make his decision on the first eight today for this weekend's season-opening race in Annapolis, Md., against Navy.

Once the first eight are determined for the heavyweights and the lightweights, the Tigers will be poised to return to their success of 1996, when both boats won national championships.

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