No. 1 Bulldogs Set Off to Defend National Title

Claire Dennis '13 gleefully tacks her laser radial in light air.
Claire Dennis '13 gleefully tacks her laser radial in light air.

Racing At The Singlehanded Nationals Begins Tomorrow

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Juniors Claire Dennis and Emily Billing left for the airport this afternoon en route to the biggest collegiate women's regatta of the fall season.  They are being accompanied in their travels by coed teammate junior Cam Cullman, as well as both head coach Zack Leonard '89 and assistant coach Bill Healy.  Their early evening flight is taking them to Chicago, Ill., where the Chicago Yacht Club will be hosting the ICSA Men's and Women's Singlehanded National Championships this weekend. 

Dennis and Billing qualified themselves for the nationals a month ago at the Women's New England Singlehanded Championship, which was hosted by Yale.  Three other competitors from the New England district will also represent their teams at the national championship.  The other 13 boats in the fleet will be representatives from the six other ICSA districts.  The total of 18 sailors will be racing for the Janet Lutz Trophy which "honors the former athletic director at Pembroke College who played a major role in the early growth of New England women's sailing" (according to the event website). 

Upon arrival in Chicago tonight, Dennis and Billing will be looking to get a full night of rest in preparation for the first day of racing tomorrow.  After a 9:30 a.m. competitors meeting, racing is scheduled to begin at noon.  On Saturday and Sunday racing will begin at 9:30 a.m., but tomorrow racers will have to spend the morning going through registration and rigging the new laser radials that will be provided for them by Laser Performance. 

The No. 1 Bulldogs' Dennis happens to be the current defending champion of this event.  Last year, in St. Petersburg, Fla., it came down to the final race when Dennis managed to edge out the second-place finisher, Anne Heager, by a single point in the overall standings.  Heager, now a senior at Boston College, is the same person who won this year's New England Singlehanded Championship.  Dennis took second at the New Englands, but after last year's performance she is confident that she has what it takes to beat Heager, as well as any of the other competitors. 

What defending Dennis' title will come down to is capitalization on her unmatched laser radial experience and extensive recent preparation from this past summer and fall semester.  18 races are scheduled for completion over the course of the three day event and all scores will count towards the final results.  With the fleet as competitive as it is going to be, the standings are sure to fluctuate significantly with every race so ultimately the winner will be whoever is able to maintain the best consistency. 

Unlike most other teams, the Bulldogs actually have two top prospects competing for the Lutz Trophy.  By no means does Billing deserve to stand in any sort of shadow from defending champion Dennis.  Last year Billing took fourth at the national championship in St. Petersburg and this year she took third at the New England Singlehanded Championship.  In addition to her singlehanded success, Billing has also been lighting it up on the double-handed scene.  Last weekend at the Victorian Coffee Urn she led the women's varsity team by finishing second in B division and helping it to qualify for the Women's Atlantic Coast Championship, which is to take place next weekend. 

Funny enough, despite Billing being from Florida and Dennis from California, the two juniors have been teammates since even before coming to Yale.  Both of them were members of the US Sailing Olympic Development Team in the laser radial class before coming to college.  Such high level experience combined with their strong camaraderie proves that the Bulldog duo will be quite a force to be reckoned with at the nationals.  The two of them have been practicing together for several weeks now at Yale in preparation for this event.  That said, now that they have pushed each other to reach higher levels in speed and boat-handling, this weekend the two competitive individuals will technically be racing against each other.  Essentially, though, this only means that this weekend the No. 1 Bulldogs are sure to be well-represented on the national stage. 

Follow the results of the first ICSA national championship of the year on TechScore.

Report filed by Chris Segerblom '14, Yale Sports Publicity