CHARLESTON, S.C. - The College of Charleston sailing team begins the first leg of the Intercollegiate Sailing Association's three national spring championships today with the ICSA/Sperry Top-Sider Women's National Championship on May 23-26 followed by the ICSA/APS Team Race National Championship on May 27-29 and the ICSA/Gill Dinghy National Championship on May 30-June 1 in Cascade Locks, Ore.
All three events are the highest-caliber regattas in the collegiate sailing year and are the culmination of two seasons of intense competition in the fall and spring. Racing will take place on the Columbia Gorge River, approximately 40 minutes East of Portland, where the currents and winds can be particularly strong and challenging for the competitors.
The Cougars are currently ranked No. 5 in the nation in Sailing World's College Coed Rankings as of May 4, while the CofC women are ranked No. 11. CofC is the defending women's national champion having defeated 2008 winner Boston College by a convincing 25-point margin a year ago in Madison, Wis. They were led by former ICSA All-Americans Shannon Heausler (Tampa, Fla.) and Allie Blecher (Fullerton, Calif.), who was the esteemed recipient of the Quantum Women's Sailor of the Year Award.
"The women's team last year left a very high standard for us to follow," said Corey Hall, a junior from St. Petersburg, Fla., making her first appearance at nationals. "Through the fall season we worked hard to make them proud and this spring season we have really improved a lot and had a lot of great regatta finishes. We are excited to compete at nationals this week."
Hall will sail A-Division with crews Sarah Scudder (Mamaroneck, N.Y.), Carly Shevitz (Santa Barbara, Calif.) or Laura Beigel (Severna Park, Md.) depending on the conditions, while Grace Lucas (Little Silver, N.J.) will skipper B-Division with crews Sarah Somes (Grosse Pointe Park, Mich.) and Deb Ong (Singapore, Singapore).
After placing fourth in the Team Race last year, the Cougars are looking to improve on their finish having won some key marquee team race competitions this season at the Gram Hall Team Race sweeping Georgetown and Boston College on March 5-6 in Annapolis, Md., the prestigious Truxton Umstead on March 19-20 in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the Marchiando Team Race on April 9-10 in Boston, Mass.
"We had a couple of weeks at the end of the year to focus on our academics and school work," said Zeke Horowitz, a junior from Sarasota, Fla., who will serve as team captain in 2011-12. "We are really excited to get back on the water. We've had perfect weather in Charleston for two-a-day practices. We've also been working with our athletic training and hitting the gym. We are excited to travel to Oregon. It's a much different type of venue and known as a relatively heavy-weather area with a lot of current - similar conditions to what we have been practicing in this week. It will be a really tight race at the top."
Horowitz will be one of three skippers competing in the Team Race National Championship with Mac Mace (Newport Beach, Calif.) and Jackson Benvenutti (Bay Saint Louis, Miss.) as well as the three-on-three crews of Perry Emsiek (Corona del Mar, Calif.), Alyssa Aitken (Sandwich, Mass.) and Cory DeCollibus (Duxbury, Mass.) and Sam Stokes (Norfolk, Va.), Jeff Aschieris (Newport Beach, Calif.) and Brooks Clark (Newport Beach, Calif.) based on the heavy-wind conditions.
The Cougars will wrap-up competition with the Dinghy National Championship. Previously ranked No. 1 in the nation on March 23, they will be well represented by Jackson Benvenutti, Alyssa Aitken and Sam Stokes in the A-Division, Mac Mace, Perry Emsiek and Jeff Aschieris in the B-Division and Zeke Horowitz, Corey Hall and Brooks Clark in the C-Division. Last year, CofC finished ninth out of 18 teams in the coed regatta.
"The team has been sailing well and we are hoping to peak at the right time," CofC head coach Ward Cromwell said. "We've been training for about a week working on speed testing, team racing and trying to get back into good form after a little bit of a break since school ended. Our chances are good. We beat all of these teams this year. Our women have been getting better all year. We finished the last intersectional of the year with a sixth-place finish at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy which was positive for them. We are hoping to put forth our best performance at nationals. If we perform at our best, good things will happen."
For updated race results, CofC fans can log onto: http://2011nationals.collegesailing.info