All three of sailing’s disciplines qualified for the Inter-collegiate Sailing Association National Championships for the first time in program history.
Sailing will represent GW at the national level in co-ed racing, team racing and women’s racing starting Tuesday at Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va., a course the Colonials have sailed four times this season.
“It’s a great indicator of the depth we have on the team,” senior Matt Homa said. “There are a lot of teams that have a few good skippers, but to have a full team that can really compete at all events is something I think has continually grown from freshman year.”
GW qualified for the co-ed nationals after finishing seventh at the Americas Trophy April 30. Women’s racing finished fifth at the MAISA Spring Women’s Championship April 23 to punch its ticket to the ICSA Women’s National Championship.
The Colonials qualified for the ICSA Team Race National Championship, following a second-place finish in team racing at the Prosser Trophy at Cornell April 9.
“The stakes are amplified and you never know how people are going to respond given the conditions,” head coach Billy Martin said. “I would expect at least a top-half finish in all three disciplines, and I think any given day, we have the talent and the leadership to actually win one of these things.”
With 32 rostered sailors on the team, Martin has been working on developing the depth of the roster in his two years as head coach in order to build a team where the level of competition stays consistent no matter who is racing on the water.
GW’s versatile roster will be key to success at the upcoming national regattas, which will happen over an 11-day span of racing, Martin said. The women’s national championship is slated to run Tuesday through Friday, followed by the team racing national championship Saturday through Monday, and finishing up the season with the co-ed national championship May 29 through June 1.
“It’s an 11-day marathon is what it is,” Martin said. “Something we did really well at our team race qualifier is that we just cycled a lot of people in, and by the end of the longest day on Saturday, we were just crushing people because we were just stronger, we were well rested. We did a really good job of using our depth, and I plan to do the same thing at this nationals.”
Last season, GW came in 13th at the women’s national competition and 12th at the co-ed national competition, but missed qualifying for the team racing competition by one spot. The missed opportunity “sank” the team, Martin said, but made this year’s team racing qualification even more rewarding.
“It’s the most competitive and that has eluded us for three years and now we finally qualified for that,” senior Sam White said. “That was the one that felt the farthest out of reach, but we knew that it was really in reach because we have the talent, we’ve been competitive in season regattas, we just haven’t put it together like the championship.”
At the women’s and the co-ed regattas, the team will be fleet racing, when boats begin at a starting line and race around a set course before crossing the finish line.
In the team racing competition, three boats must combine for the lowest total score in finishing place, a feat that requires communication, trust and a familiarity with the racing tendencies of the other boats’ crews, White said.
“Having sailed together in this group for two or three years now and practicing together for four, it really helps the communication and all the other things when you get out there on the water to have this experience,” White said.
In the week leading up to the national regattas, seniors – the second recruiting class since sailing became a varsity program in 2012 – have served as an extra set of eyes on the water, White said.
“I think everyone that’s a senior can remember when we were freshmen and having seniors take us under their wing and taught us how to sail correctly,” White said. “And we’re trying to pass that along in hopes that they’ll continue passing that willingness to coach within the team.”
In addition to using the team’s depth, Martin said the team’s experience on the course at Old Dominion has made game planning for different breeze directions and weather conditions easier. This week will be the Colonials’ fifth trip to Old Dominion this season, and the team’s familiarity with the course will make drafting race strategies during competition “fairly turnkey,” he said.
For the team’s seniors, the program’s milestone has been a lesson in “deferred gratification.”
“That was a big lesson for me,” White said. “That you succeed at this level by putting in a lot of effort for a long time, and eventually it pays off.”