Sailing team sets ambitious course for 2017

16/04/2017 - Boston, MA - Junior Molly Pleskus and sophomore Sabrina Van Mell sail in a regatta hosted by Boston University on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

The quintessential sports coach prowls the sidelines with crossed arms, never more than a few dozen yards away from their players. Rarely, if ever, is anyone beyond shouting distance. Not so for Tufts sailing team coach Ken Legler, who often finds himself multiple states away from his athletes. That’s a result of the team’s unique schedule, which scatters its fifty-plus members scatter across the Northeast every weekend to compete in multiple regattas, some of which are co-ed while others are women’s only.

“A typical event includes as few as four people…so we enter about eight events per weekend,” Legler said.

This means that from Sept. 9 to Nov. 9, the Jumbos could compete in as many as 70 regattas, ranging from the top tier of college sailing (the A level) to lower echelon events with other schools’ club teams. Like all New England Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association (NEISA) teams, Tufts competes in fleet racing during the fall season, in which two teammates — a skipper and a crew — handle each boat.

While last year’s entire lineup of A level crews returns to the squad, the Jumbos must replace all but one of their skippers. Doing so will be a massive challenge for a team like Tufts, which typically tries to maintain continuity among its sailing partnerships.

“Coach Legler wants to ensure that the [skipper/crew] combinations are strong,” senior tri-captain Lara Dienemann said. “A lot of other teams mix around and think that their crews are expendable, but the relationship that you build in a boat over a couple years goes a long way.”

Dienemann should know. The Portsmouth, N.H. native spent the past three years with skipper Alexander Tong (E ’17), and the duo progressed to national championships last spring, a feat that Dienemann attributed to their cohesion. This year, though, she will have to adjust to a new partner, junior Jack Bitney.

“Our skippers that are [new to] the A team are really talented,” Dienemann said. “They got good experience at all the B levels and some A levels last year.”

The team’s new pairs will be thrust into the flames immediately, with Tufts boats entered in seven different regattas this weekend, from the Penobscot Bay Open in Castine, Maine to the Mt. Hope Bay Invitational in Bristol, R.I. The weekend’s most high-profile event — the Harry Anderson Trophy — will take place at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., where the Jumbos recently spent a week of preseason training.

“Yale is so different than what we get at Tufts, [so] it makes a great place for preseason,” Legler said. “At Tufts, we sail on a tiny lake with flat water and very shifty wind. At Yale, there’s a steady wind but big waves.”

Tufts will host the 34th Hood Trophy from Sept. 23 to 24 at its facility on Mystic Lake in Medford, Mass. On Oct. 28 to 29, the Jumbos visit Harvard and MIT for the Women’s Victorian Coffee Urn and the Erwin Schell Trophy, respectively. With solid results at those two events, both the co-ed and women’s teams will likely qualify for the Atlantic Coast Championships. A co-ed regatta will be held Nov. 11 to 12 in King’s Point, N.Y.

As its name suggests, the Atlantic Coast Championships brings together the top schools on the East Coast to culminate the fall season. Last year, racing on the local confines of Boston’s Charles River, Tufts finished second overall, just 11 points behind MIT.

“The Charles … is very similar to Mystic Lake, so that’s one of the reasons why we [did] very well,” Dienemann said.

The Jumbos are aware, though, that a new venue this year — Long Island Sound — means nothing is guaranteed. The team’s experience at Yale, where there are similar conditions, could be the key to a strong showing.

Before Tufts can turn its attention to qualifying for the ACC, however, there’s much work to be done. The Jumbos’ performance in the fall influences which regattas they’ll compete in during the spring season.

“The higher we get [our] rank, the better regattas we get into in the spring,” Legler said. “So the fall isn’t a lead up to one regatta; it all counts, starting with this weekend’s Harry Anderson Trophy.”