Monday, June 8, 2009

Luke, I Am Your Father...

Men's lightweight rowing coach Greg Hughes is a favorite here at TigerBlog HQ for two reasons. One, he is a forward thinker who has been greatly helpful in our move towards more technological material online.

Two, he makes Darth Vader sound like Mickey Mouse.

Hughes has been a favorite around the boathouse for a much longer time, though. In 1996, as a senior on the men's lightweight crew, he helped Princeton surge to a national championship by the slimmest of margins — .01 of a second. Basically, it's the amount of time it took you to read that last sentence, multiplied by 500.

As the heavyweight assistant coach, he guided a 2003 novice crew that won the Royal Henley regatta and would eventually become a senior class that won the Ivy League title and finished second at nationals.

It was the summer of 2005 when he got the chance to replace his former head coach, the retiring Joe Murtaugh. TigerBlog remembers the moment he saw Hughes in Gary Walters' office, put two and two together and immediately thought that this was the perfect fit. Since then, it's been an upward climb that culminated in the perfect 2009 season.

Men's lightweight rowing is a sport full of parity. The league powers include Ivy League schools, as well as Navy and Georgetown. It's a small pool of young men who can get into those schools, and an even smaller pool that can handle the weight restrictions and still row at a high level. It's a sport where A beats B, B beats C and C beats A. Then they get to the championship weekend, and D wins. And really, nobody saw D after it lost to E, which got killed by A, B and C.

That parity existed this year, except for A. Princeton was A. B might have beaten C, lost to D, tied with E and never raced F. It didn't matter. None of those letters even touched A.

When Princeton was challenged each week of the regular season, it always won. When Princeton had to race two times to win its first Eastern/Ivy League title, it won. When Princeton took four weeks off, flew to Sacramento and had one race to win the national title against a field of letters looking for the stunner, it won.

And it won in style. Five hundred meters into the race, the gold was all but decided.

The driving force has been Hughes, a determined and driven coach who strives for excellence in a sport he obviously has deep respect for. He didn't like a school newspaper headline once that referred to a previous year's win as a "rout" because he thought it disrespected the other school's rowers. He cherishes Sprints because, to him, it's the ultimate in competition.

The program has taken a step forward every year since he's taken over. That trend can't possibly continue next year. Perfection can be matched, but can't be topped.

But if you're going to try matching it, Greg Hughes gives you a chance.

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