No. 3 Bulldogs Second at ICSA/Gill Coed Dinghy National Championships

Joe Morris and Mike Hession.
Joe Morris and Mike Hession.

June 3, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - The No. 3 Bulldog coed sailing team finished up competition at the ICSA/Gill Coed Dinghy National Championships with a second-place finish, the team's highest finish in more than two decades.   The three-day event, the premier competition in collegiate sailing, featured three days of intense racing on San Francisco Bay, with the title coming down to the last B division race of the regatta.

The Bulldogs competed strongly at the event, sailing consistently the entire time, a hard feat considering the tough conditions, which included strong wind and current. The team faced perhaps the toughest competition at the National Championships in history because the teams at the National Championships had to go through both district eliminations as well as the ICSA National Semifinal events.  In previous years, teams solely competed at District competition for the right to sail at the National Championships.  The new qualifying system, which started with the 2008 National Championships, ensures that the Championships includes the top teams in college sailing regardless of district.  

Racing began on Monday with eight races in A and B divisions.  Tuesday's racing added another six races in each division, with the final four races in each division planned for the third and final day of racing.  After the first day of racing, the Bulldogs were right in the hunt for the overall title, sitting in third place behind No. 4 St. Mary's College of Maryland and No. 1 Georgetown.  The Bulldogs, who had placed fourth at the ICSA/APS Team Race National Championships held at Treasure Island Sailing Center on May 29-31, moved up in the standings during the second day of competition, sitting only seven points out of the lead.  The Bulldogs, though, had by then built up a large cushion over third place Georgetown, leading the Hoyas by 47 points after 14 races in each division. 

Ultimately, racing came down to the final day and the Bulldogs were very close to the overall title, placing second with 199 points. St. Mary's College of Maryland won the event with 179 points. The point total at the end of the day, however, does not tell the entire story. With only two races left in the entire regatta, the Bulldog squad led the regatta by a three-point margin. It was only during the last two races of the event that the Seahawks pulled ahead of the Bulldogs in the final tally for the last time.

The entire last day of competition was characterized by strong performances and close scores. A division opened the day, turning in a ninth in the first race of the day and a second in the second race of the day.  This 11-point performance left the Bulldogs tied with the Seahawks in overall points.  B division then took to the water, with the Seahawks edging ahead on the strength of a seven-point set, compared to the 18 points scored by the Bulldogs.  The A division team, though, then knew that it was their opportunity to get the Bulldogs back into the game.  Junior Thomas Barrows along with crew Marla Menninger took second in the third A division race of the day, coming back from a tough start to pass boats on every leg to get the Bulldogs back into the competition.  In the same race, St. Mary's struggled, placing 13th, giving the Bulldogs a 168-170 lead with only one A division and two B division races remaining. 

In the final A division race, with the wind continuing to build, senior Jane Macky stepped in for Menninger. While Barrows got another tough start, starting behind all of the fleet, the duo used their exceptional up and downwind speed to move up into the lead and win the final A division race of the regatta.  St. Mary's finished second in this race,  giving the Bulldogs a three-point cushion over the Seahawks with only two races left.  In those two races, the Bulldogs struggled to get off the starting line and had to battle through the pack each time, turning in a 14thin the 17thrace of the regatta and a 16thin the final race while St. Mary's turned in a seven-point set to take the lead and the overall title.

While the team did not capture their first Coed Dinghy National Championship since 1975, the performance the team turned in was still impressive.  The second-place result is the best for the Bulldogs since 1981, when the squad also placed second.  The team's best performance in recent years was a third-place finish in 2007, when Barrows, who sailed A division at this year's National championship, was sailing in B division. 

McNay Family Director of Yale Sailing Zachary Leonard is proud of the team's accomplishment and excited by the regatta's result.

"I'm really happy with the way that we performed at Nationals," Leonard said.  "I knew that if we did everything we could to prepare, we would be competitive.  I really thought that we could have finished one or two spots higher in team racing or a couple of spots lower in team racing and still have been pleased with our results.  Everyone really worked hard this season and always came to practice ready to work.  I hope that we can enjoy the feeling of success and then get back to work next year."

The Bulldogs turned in terrific divisional performances as well, with junior captain Thomas Barrows along with crews sophomore Blair Belling, junior Marla Menninger and senior Jane Macky winning A division and the Robert Allan, Sr. Trophy. The combination scored 68 points over the 18 races to win their division by 34 points. St. Mary's was second with 102 points. Barrows has n! ow been the winning skipper in both A and B divisions during his collegiate career. He won the B division title as a freshman with crew freshman Abigail Coplin '08.  The same skipper has won both A and B division only six times in collegiate sailing history dating back to 1937.  The last time was in 1964, when University of British Columbia's Colin N. Park won A division, adding to his 1962 B division title. The A division team had very good boat speed both up and downwind and frequently was able to make up ground on the fleet despite not having the best starts.  In the regatta's 18 races, the A division team only finished outside the top half of the fleet once, an incredible display of consistency.  They won five races and were second in a further five.  Of the regatta's 18 races, the Bulldogs finished in the top five in 14 of th! em.  This is the first time that the Bulldogs have won A divis! ion at the ICSA/Gill Coed Dinghy National Championships since 1950, when Robert E. Monetti '50 was the skipper.  Monetti also won the division in 1947 and 1948.  The Bulldogs won the national title in 1947 and 1950 and were second in 1948.  The team also won the national title in 1949, a year in which they won B division.      

The team also did well in B division, taking fourth with 131 points. Sailing in the division were freshman skipper Joseph Morris along with crews junior Michael Hession and senior Grace Becton. The division was won by St. Mary's with 77 points.  The A division combination won one race during the regatta and had six finishes in the top five.  Morris had a special distinction in the event as a freshman skipper.  Only five other freshman skippered during the ICSA/Gill Coed Dinghy National Championships, but none of them sailed the entire!  regatta like Morris. 

Morris, who won A division at the ISSA High School National Championships in 2008, was pleased with his and the team's performance.

"I think that the Nationals went pretty well," Morris said.  "The fleet was very competitive and I feel that I learned a lot during the event, like how to sail under pressure and learning how to put points on an opponent.  My goal was to get top five in my division, and I did that by getting fourth, so I was happy but not satisfied as I think I could have done better.  Once you are in the top three, I think that that is as good as you can ask for on any given day.  It turned out that second was the best that we could have done at this regatta."

Going into the last two races of the event, the Bulldogs had a small edge on the Seahawks.  Morris knew that this changed the game in the racing from racing against the fleet to more racing against the team from St. Mary's.

"It was not until the second day of racing that it became apparent that our big competition was from St. Mary's," Morris said.  "I knew in those last two races that Michael [Menninger from St. Mary's] would have a speed advantage because he had 20 to 30 pounds more weight in his boat.  My goal in the last races was to get the first cross against St. Mary's and to send them the wrong way on the course. Unfortunately, we didn't get good starts and it didn't work out that way."

Still, though, the future looks bright for the Bulldogs.  Both skippers that competed at the ICSA/Gill Coed Dinghy National championships return next year along with the crews that sailed the majority of the races at the National Championship.

Morris feels that the team was on the right track in its preparation for the Championship.

"Next year, I feel like we should take the same approach as we did everything right this time around," Morris said.  "I want to get faster and get in better shape, but we did the exact preparation we needed to.  I've had a lot of regattas of six to seven days in the past, so the length of Nationals was not a huge thing for me.  I think that three things really lead to our success this season.  First, I think was the team's work ethic, as everyone was completely dedicated on their own and we did everything we needed to as a team.  Second, our two coaches, Zachary Leonard and Bill Healy, are the two best coaches in college sailing and balance each other so well.  Third, I think that the leadership from the older kids on the team is great as they give a lot of guidance."

The Bulldogs will open competition in the 2009-10 season at home by hosting the Harry Anderson Intersectional on Sept. 12-13.  A number of Bulldogs will continue training for the upcoming season during the summer by participating in international competitions. 

Report filed by Caleb Dorfman '09, Yale Sports Publicity