Cambridge Boat Club lightweight single sculler Mary Jones has had enough experience in her career to know that managing an important regatta like Senior Trials means executing every step carefully to reach a final with the best chance of success.
Which, she said Monday after advancing directly into a final from her heat in the lightweight women's single, means rowing each race with a different goal - putting in just the right amount of work necessary to advance, but saving as much energy as possible for the race that counts the most.
"With a new regatta, you really try to build from one day to the next," Jones said. "It's a matter of executing the time trial, finding the rhythm that you want to set for the week. and getting your body into a place to perform.
"And, then, with the quick turnaround, it's about getting recovery, getting your food in, getting your hydration, and then getting back here and executing again and going through a side-by-side race, and setting yourself up for the race that matters at the end of the week, which is the final."
All the athletes and crews competing in the 2017 Senior Trials on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., understand that process. Some of the crews that had to race in a time trial Sunday evening, and then come back Monday morning for heats, were able to make that work to their advantage and avoided racing again in a rep in order to advance to a semifinal or final.
Jones and 15 other crews were able to pull that off on a morning that featured cool temperatures, flat water and varying amounts of rain, some steady, some light and drizzly.
Following the racing, row2k spoke with some of the crews, who like Jones, rowed fast enough to set themselves with an extra race off. Of the eight women who raced in the women's lightweight single event, Jones rowed the fastest time of the two heats (8.20:45.) GMS Rowing Center's Michaela Copenhaver advanced to the final from the first heat in 8:29.18.
Monday racing led off with the men's single. In the first of the two heats Ari Cohen from CRI advanced into his final, holding a comfortable lead through the last few hundred meters. By contrast, in the second hear California Rowing Club's Michael Clougher and Justin Keen from Penn AC went down to the wire, with Clougher advancing in just over a second of a difference.
"The results speak for themselves," Clougher said. "I'm just trying to get ready for Wednesday now. I think it's pretty clear what the progression system is. Everyone wants to win every race."
Keen had the same result in mind, but felt he needed just a little something more in the final strokes
"We got off the line fast, and then fought the whole second thousand," Keen said. "I could have used a little more juice at the end. It feels good to have my first race in the single since NSR 1. The conditions were good to rip one off. I'll have to go out there and do it again tomorrow."
Felice Muellerhas been experiencing a fair amount of success in her new boat class. She has been rowing in the U.S. sweep program for the better part of her time racing internationally. She rowed the pair to fourth place in Rio last summer, and a bronze medal in the 2015 world championships.
She moved into the single this season, finished fourth at World Rowing Cup III, and won the elite event at club nationals last month. Monday morning, she advanced to the Tuesday semifinal with the fastest (7.36:46) of the three heats.
"I approached this like you approach any other race," Mueller said. "I think in a singles event, and I am still figuring it out, you need to be smart about racing. You don't need to necessarily do more than you should because you race a lot. But I also think having that mindset going into a race can be dangerous. You have to be as prepared as you can.
"I thought (this race) went well," she said. "I felt like I did a couple of things technically different than I did Sunday. But, we'll see what the coach says. I think it was better."
Ellen Tomek and Meghan O'Leary have been rowing this event together since 2013. They finished sixth in the Rio final and are back again for the start of this new cycle after a small break last fall.
They gained the Wednesday final in their heat Monday.
"In any regatta, there is always a kind of sigh of relief after you get into the final because, in the final, it's all or nothing and you can relax a little bit going into it and just go out and have your race," O'Leary said, adding that having so much time together with Tomek gives them both a level of comfort.
"We've raced so many times together that, even with so much time out of the boat this year, we just get back into the boat and it kind of just feels like routine," O'Leary said. "We know what we have to do and there is this unspoken understanding of what we need to do to get it done.
"We've just approached this regatta with every race bumping it up a little bit and then having a really strong final. We've always said that if any boat beats us here at trials, or the national selection regatta, then they deserve to go to the world championships because we think we're fast. So that's a good thing," she said. "We're hoping to put down a really good race on Wednesday and just take that as a step toward, hopefully, representing the U.S. at worlds this year."
With six pairs all made up of guys from the U.S. men's Princeton training center selection camp - all of whom are trying to make either the men's eight or four, nerves can add to the level of tension that already exists in a regatta of this importance. In the two three boat heats, two crews - Andres Weiss and Michael Colella, and Andrew LeRoux and Ben Delaney - moved directly into the Wednesday final.
"Nerves? They're high, they're high," said Delaney. "Thankfully, my young pair partner, Andy, is well experienced and won a bronze medal last year at junior would champs in the men's quad. I've been at trials at the junior level and U23 level, so we've got a little experience.
"But for the most part, you've just got to stay calm and row your race," Delaney said. "Just row like practice. The entire field is people we have been rowing with the last two months, so we just try and take it like practice every day."
Men's Lightweight Single
There are six scullers in the event, and of the two heats, Matt O'Leary and Nick Trojan advanced. O'Leary, like most of the athletes interviewed, said he also looks at the heat as a step in a process.
"In the time trial, you sort of have to go hard, but you don’t really know if you are winning or not," he said. "But in the heat, you can tell if you need to win. Today, for me, it was just get a length up and see how long I can go as easy as possible and stay a length up, which turned out to be not that easy. The next one, the final, will be to see if I can stick to the race plan where I just keep it consistently fast, with maybe a little higher heart rate."
Trials racing continues on Monday night with a rep in the Women's Single, then reps and semifinals to determine all of the trials finalists on Tuesday morning.