Thursday, June 19, 2014

2014 College Sailing National Championship

The 2014 Nationals Squad From Left:  Chris Cyr, Liz Wallace, Karinne Smolenyak, Tom Etheridge, Ryan Seago,
 Scott Ismail, Will Cyr, Alex Ramos, Coach Mr. Ramos, and Emily Gazall

On Friday May 30th, 9 Michigan Sailors traveled to St Mary’s College on the southern tip of Maryland for the 2014 College Sailing National Championship.  The team was fresh off a several weeks of practice in Ann Arbor and a few days of sparing with University of Wisconsin in Madison, and was excited to start racing.  The first three days of the week long event were the Team Race Championship to be sailed by Alex Ramos, Will Cyr, Ryan Seago, Karinne Smolenyak, Scott Ismail, and Liz Wallace with Tom Etheridge, Chris Cyr, and Emily Gazall serving as alternates/coaches.   We started the day with a race against Tufts University and much to the surprise of the Tufts coach (but not to us) the race came down to the last 20 boat lengths with the “Jumbos” just barely getting the win.  After a quick rotation, we were right into another race, this time against last year’s runners up St Mary’s College.  It was another exciting race but the Home Team took away the win.  Next up was College of Charleston.  We managed to push 2 of their 3 boats over early giving us a clear 1-2 at the windward mark.  However, as the wind started to die out the Charleston boats managed to catch up and after a very strenuous final leg they had captured the come from behind win.  Following another devastatingly close loss, this time to Rodger Williams, we were in desperate need for some wins.  Just when we needed them most, we rattled off a streak of wins against ODU, Santa Barbara, Washington, and Texas A&M Galveston and just like that, midway through the first round, we were only a win or two out of qualifying for the second round but had yet to face our toughest tests.  This win streak was followed by a series of incredibly close and excited races against Yale, Navy, USF, Georgetown,  BC, and Stanford that unfortunately ended in losses.  Throughout the entire event we were turning the heads of coaches, sailors, and especially the commentators for the live online broadcast.  They fell in love with the team and every race they said “and here’s Michigan again in a surprisingly tight race.”  Overall we sailed a great regatta and were excited to move into Fleet Racing Nationals.

After a day and a half off we awoke bright and early Tuesday, June 3rd, to claim our spot along the St Mary’s River for Coed Dinghy National Semifinal.  It was critical we get there early as there were 36 teams and well over 300 sailors at the event.  Sailing in A Division was Alex Ramos back with his fleet racing crew Karinne Smolenyak and in B Division was Ryan Seago with his faithful crew Liz Wallace.  In order to qualify for the National Championship Regatta we had to be in the top 9 in our semifinal, a tall task as the best sailors in the country were at the event.  Conditions were the classic Chesapeake Bay summer of 0-10 knots dying until the seabreeze filled in around 2pm; a stark contrast from the consistent 5-10 knots at Team Race only a few days before.  Both days of semis were riddled with wind delays and the team was forced to find creative ways to entertain themselves.  Some chose to read or nap in the shade, others explored the campus (and creepy graveyard), but finally a great Midwest wiffleball duel developed on a field behind the sailing center between Michigan and Wisconsin.  Wisconsin walked away the victors behind a strong pitching performance from Senior Mike Lee as Michigan tragically left numerous runners in scoring position.  Back on the water, after some scattered racing we managed to pull of some fairly consistent results putting us only a few points out of 9th with only an hour and a half left of racing on the last day of semifinals.  There would just enough time for 1, or possibly 2,  A and B races.  It was crunch time for the squad and rather than buckle under the immense pressure, both boats sailed incredibly clutch races and the last race, which only barely made the start deadline, came down to essentially a match race with who else but the University of Wisconsin.  After a nerve racking final race (only one of us could move on to Nationals) Mike Lee of Wisco replicated his incredible pitching performance and narrowly out dueled Ryan Seago.  Although only 6 races were sailed, we ended up 1 point out of qualifying for Nationals (although the scores online do not necessarily reflect this due to an unfortunate collision for which we were penalized).  At the end of the day, we had an awesome week at Nationals and look forward to competing next year at Brown!  A huge thanks to our hosts for the week the Mould Family and Patrick Aylward, our volunteer coach Mr. Ramos, and of course our outgoing seniors Scott Ismail, Will Cyr, Karinne Smolenyak and our kind of seniors Ryan Seago and Liz Wallace who will be back for one more season as they finish up their degrees!  Go Blue!

-Tom Etheridge '16