May 30, 2012

After Much Preparation, No. 3 Bulldogs Head to Nationals

Racing Begins May 31 on Lake Travis in Austin, Texas

AUSTIN, Texas - After nearly three weeks spent living on the Old Campus and practicing out of the McNay Family Sailing Center in Branford, Conn., the No. 3 Yale women's sailing team finally departed New Haven early on Wednesday morning for Austin, Texas—the site of the 2012 ICSA Women's National Dinghy Championship.  Racing at the nationals is scheduled to begin at noon on Thursday, May 31, and continue through June 2.

This year the Bulldogs had an exceptional amount of time to spend training between the regular season and the nationals.  One reason for this is that this year's national championship was scheduled almost a full week later than most previous years.  Additionally, and more importantly, this year the Bulldogs earned themselves a direct berth to the nationals by placing second at their district qualifiers.  Had they not finished top-two at the Women's New England Championship, racing in Texas would have begun for them on May 30 at the ICSA Women's Semifinals, where the last nine of 18 national championship spots are determined.  Although the Bulldogs took first place at the semifinals last year, before the nationals in Cascade Locks, Ore., this year they saved themselves the stress of having to qualify last-minute.

According to members of the Yale women's sailing team, the extra time to prepare for the nationals has been used quite productively, without neglecting to provide team members with sufficient time off.  After exams finished on Tuesday May 8, the team spent three days on the water helping the Yale coed sailing team to prepare for its national championship qualifier the following weekend.  The Bulldogs were then given a week to themselves during which many of them returned home to visit family and attend siblings' graduations. 

Meanwhile, the Yale class of 2012 had graduation ceremonies of its own.  Past women's varsity sailing captain, Margot Benedict, who is traveling with the team to Austin, was amongst those receiving their degrees.    Isabel Elliman and Genoa Warner, past members of the women's sailing team and current members of the coed team, also graduated.  Unlike most of their classmates though, Benedict, Elliman and Warner did not say farewell to New Haven after graduation weekend.  Instead, on the following day they were back with the sailing team, commuting between the gym, their dorms and the sailing center.    

In the week following graduation, the Yale women's and coed sailing teams really got to work training for nationals.  Monday through Friday consisted of two-a-days on the water in addition to the team's workouts every other day at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium.  On Tuesday and Thursday that week, the Bulldogs traveled an hour north to New London where they practiced with the Brown University Sailing Team, using the boats and facilities at the US Coast Guard Academy.  Brown's women's sailing team is ranked No. 4 in the nation, just behind the Bulldogs.

On Saturday May 26 the undergraduate Bulldogs hosted a regatta for alumni of the team.  While this was mostly a social event for the alums, their natural competitive spirits came out to give the current team members a run for their money on the race course.  With 15 boats on the starting line and tricky, light-air sailing conditions, the Alumni Regatta turned out to be another productive practice day for the Bulldogs. 

Finally, over the past couple of days the Bulldogs have been tapering their workouts and practice sessions in hopes of being fresh upon their arrival to Lake Travis in Austin, where the nationals will be sailed.  Since they are arriving Wednesday morning, they will have the chance to spend Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning watching the racing at the ICSA Women's Semifinals before taking to the race course themselves on Thursday afternoon. 

While spectating and trying to soak up as much local knowledge as possible about the Lake Travis racing venue, the Bulldogs are going to find themselves soaking up plenty of something else as well—sun.  With forecasts calling for temperatures to break into the 90s on most days, sun protection and hydration are going to be crucial factors affecting competitors' physical and mental sharpness on the water at the nationals.  For this reason, it is even more beneficial that the Bulldogs get to avoid spending a full extra day racing in the sun.

It has been a long and largely successful season for the Yale women's sailing team, especially if you consider both the fall and the spring.  In the fall the Bulldogs held onto the No. 1 national ranking all season long and it was not until late in the spring that they were knocked from that top spot.  Now, after more than a month since their last regular competition, the Bulldogs are determined to reclaim the No. 1 spot when it really counts—at the nationals. 

Eight sailors will travel to represent Yale in Austin, Texas at the three-day national championship regatta which starts on May 31.   Just two divisions of FJs will be scored, but the Bulldogs have shown before that their large squad has talent that runs deep, so all eight team members are likely to play a significant role.  At the two biggest regattas of the year other than the nationals, the Women's Atlantic Coast Championship and Women's New England Championship, Yale took first and second respectively while utilizing all members of its roster. 

At those championships, individuals were ready at all times and stepped up to the plate with confidence when called upon.  That is exactly what will need to happen this week if the team is to meet its goal of winning the national championship.   

Report filed by Chris Segerblom '14, Yale Sports Publicity

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