Women’s sailing places 4th at Nationals

by Emily Wechsler | 6/1/15 6:10pm

From the outside, last week’s fourth-place finish at the Intercollegiate Sailing Association Women’s National Championships might look like a disappointment for the two-time defending champion women’s sailing team. It might seem a pity that the team’s sole senior, two-time Quantum Women’s Sailor of the Year Deirdre Lambert ’15, went home without any hardware.

Yet, the team also claimed first in its ICSA Women’s Eastern Semifinal to get them to the final, an accomplishment of which they can be proud. At the end of a year of ups and downs, the team, which finished a mere 14 points behind first place at the national competition, saw a strong end to the season and earned the first regatta win for the women’s team all season — all in four straight days of sailing.

“It was definitely a season where we had to battle through some adversity, both with the lake [which remained frozen well into the season and severely cut practice time] and with some disappointing qualifiers,” head coach Justin Assad said. “So I think with that being said, you can look at the success of this women’s regatta — the national championship — and be really proud of that performance for the whole team.”

With 223 points, powerhouse Yale University took the top spot at the national championship, which was in Providence, Rhode Island, on Wednesday and Thursday. Boston College and Brown University took second and third with 228 and 234 points in the women’s competition, respectively.

As indicated by the tight scores in the championship, the regatta was highly competitive, team captain Sarah Williams ’16 said. New England teams made up the top four, belying the strength of the area.

“We went in just trying to sail every race as best as we could, and ended up with awesome results,” Williams said. “Getting fourth in the country is pretty cool. We were definitely excited. There’s such tough competition that getting fourth is an honor.”

The finals saw boats led by Lambert in the A division, crewed at first by Lizzie Guynn ’16 and later — when the wind picked up — by Hope Wilson ’16. Williams led in the B division, crewed at first by Abigail Rohman ’16 and later by Sophia Diserio ’18. In a competition of 18 races, the women had to focus on minimizing mistakes, Williams said.

The eastern semifinals regatta, too, was “an awesome race” for the women, Williams said. The Big Green was seeded away from top competitors like Yale and Boston College, which were in the western semifinal, and Brown sailed relatively poorly to finish sixth in the eastern semifinal.

Although the women were defending champions, Assad said that the team had focused on doing their best and training to their fullest potential with only this year in mind.

“Every year’s a little different, so we tried hard not to let those expectations of reigning champions build up to much,” he said. “We try to focus on the skills we think we’re going to need to sail well. Every year that’s kind of the goal, and this year that was the focus and I think we can be really proud of the way that we executed on a whole at the regatta.”

In fact, the team has more to be proud of in the way it handled its boats on race day. Though the team was confident throughout its semifinal racing, it ended the first race day in fourth place and defeated second-place College of Charleston by only 10 points. This meant high pressure throughout the two days.

In the finals the situation was even more dire. A rocky start on first day of the national finals left Dartmouth in the middle of the pack. Steady top finishes, marred by only a few poor showings, floated the team to fourth by the end of the day. Had the last few races gone a bit differently, first was within reach.

The physically demanding week had higher stakes and higher intensity than any other regatta this season, Williams said, compounded by the strain of 10 to 20-knot winds

“We had to be extremely mentally prepared,” she said. “We saw some of the toughest conditions that there are in college sailing.”

The seasoned Big Green sailors, however, proved more than capable of handling things. The team brought alternate crews for different wind conditions and all performed well. Assad cited the team’s strength and conditioning program as one reason for that.

“The team lifts three days a week during the winter and two days a week during the season, and we feel like that’s an area in our sport where we feel like we can out-train a lot of the teams that we’re competing against,” Assad said, “So we put a high priority on treating that like a controlled variable, and I think we saw the positive effects of that sailing in the breeze, especially on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”

The end of the regatta was the end of standout Lambert’s decorated Dartmouth career. She was the first sailor to earn the Women’s Sailor of the Year title twice in a row, since the title’s inception in 2002, doing so in 2013 and 2014 after winning the A divisions at the national championships by 37 points and 41 points. She was an honorable mention All-American in her freshman season and continued her rise to stardom from there.

Lambert wasn’t without her competition. Yale senior Morgan Kiss, who pocketed the Sailor of the Year award this year, outshined Lambert when they were freshmen by earning All-American honors and was a finalist for the top award last year.

“[Lambert] is one of the most competitive sailors I’ve coached, and I know she works really hard and tried to put up the best result possible, so I’m sure there’s a little bitter sweet feeling around [this end to her career], but I think she has to feel like we left it all out on the water,” Assad said.

This year was different for Lambert, Assad said. She focused more on coed racing than women’s racing, hurting her chances for the women’s sailor award but helping the coed team to be in contention for a nationals bid. In fact, perhaps the most disappointing moments of the season were the team race and coed championship qualifiers, in which a few mistakes cost the Big Green bids to the postseason.

“Those were really tough setbacks for our team, and it’s been a roller coaster of a year and season,” Williams said. “It’s been extremely tough racing and not qualifying for those regattas was definitely an upset, but to have those guys and girls back us even though they weren’t able to race really means a lot.”

Despite her own success as a skipper, Williams was sure to credit her coaches and teammates for their roles in the women’s postseason success, calling them “the most supportive team out there.” Assad and David Thompson made sure the women “kept smiling” after good and bad races, and Williams said she believes the team will continue to be successful under their guidance.

“Even though it wasn’t a first-place win, it still means so much to our team. We wouldn’t have been able to get to this point without our whole team,” she said. “Obviously our whole team back on campus, we all put in so much time at practice, and without all their help we wouldn’t have made it.”

The team will graduate an important member in Lambert, as well as several strong members of the coed team, but looks forward to younger sailors stepping into new roles and to welcoming the Class of 2019 at preseason next fall, Assad and Williams said.