Even-keeled Jumbos stay focused despite tough results

Senior Molly Pleskus and junior Sabrina Van Mell sail in a regatta hosted by Boston University on April 16, 2017. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

The Tufts sailing team competed in a quintet of team racing regattas over the weekend, setting sail in three of the six New England states in the process. With qualification for the national competition on the line at the New England Team Racing Championship, the Jumbos turned in a disappointing 11th-place result.

One year ago, Tufts rode a superb Sunday performance to a second-place finish at the New England Team Racing Championships on its home course of Mystic LakeWith the result, the Jumbos qualified for the Inter-collegiate Sailing Association (ICSA) National Championship in Mount Pleasant, S.C., where they tied for ninth. Despite their past success, the Jumbos had measured expectations heading into the 2018 edition of the regional Team Championships.

“We thought [qualification] was a possibility … but we didn’t think our odds of qualifying were very strong,” coach Ken Legler said. “It takes a tremendous amount of experience to win at this level. It’s the best conference in the country, and it’s tough to qualify. Last year, we had all senior skippers and we were at home. This year, we were on the road with junior skippers, [and] it’s their first year sailing at this level.”

Sure enough, the Jumbos got off to a difficult start on Saturday. With a steady breeze providing perfect conditions on Conn. College’s Thames River, the team was in 10th place of 12 teams after the first day.

The sailors were greeted by slightly stronger winds the following day, but Tufts was unable to mount a Sunday charge. Instead, the team finished 11th overall, registering victories over Brown and Coast Guard for a 2–9 record. As the top four finishers, Yale, Roger Williams, Dartmouth and Boston College qualify for the national tournament from May 26–28 in Norfolk, Va.

Nonetheless, the Jumbos took mainly positives from their performance, which they can use as a crucial building block, according to senior crew Emily Shanley-Roberts.

“We compete in the most competitive conference in collegiate sailing … so our qualifier is very difficult,” Shanley-Roberts told the Daily in an email. “We had many close races and learned a lot. The team looks forward to returning to the qualifier next year with more experience.”

The Tufts women’s squad sent sailors to the Emily Wick Trophy, hosted by YaleSurprisingly calm conditions on Long Island Sound limited the competition to just nine races in each division. Senior skipper Molly Pleskus and junior crew Taylor Hart steered the Jumbos to a 13th-place finish in the A Division with 108 points. First-year skipper Talia Toland and senior crew Lucy Robison matched their teammates’ performance with 108 points in the B Division to place 15th. The Jumbos’ overall total of 216 points earned them 16th in the 18-team field.

Tufts also competed in the Mystic Lake Team Race, as 10 three-boat teams took to the Jumbos’ home course in Larks (a faster, more responsive boat than college teams typically use). The hosts’ entrants ultimately finished first and second overall, separated by just one win. Both teams edged out a group from the University of Rhode Island that had missed qualification to the New England Team Racing Championships by just one spot.

The Jumbos’ top squad consisted of three skippers — senior co-captain Julien Guiot, senior Aaron Klein and junior Samuel Shea — and three crews in sophomore Emma Clutterbuck, junior Kahler Newsham and first-year Juliana Testa. Four of the six members of Tufts’ second-place team (including all three skippers) were first-year sailors, so the regatta provided them valuable experience.

“Usually, there’s only enough team racing regattas for your A team and your B team, and we were able to get a [first-year] team, as well,” Legler said. “So that event worked out really well.”

The maritime marauders from Medford also visited Coast Guard for the two-day J70 Open, where they finished sixth with 75 points. Tufts struggled initially, placing seventh of eight teams in the first race of the weekend. The Jumbos responded, however, steadily creeping back into the competition thanks to three straight third-place finishes in races No. 5–7. Tufts surpassed Maine Maritime in the fourth event and nearly caught Mass Maritime, ultimately coming up just three points short in its bid for fifth place. Despite the result, the Jumbos can hang their hats on a second-place finish — their best result of the regatta — in the final race of the weekend.

Finally, Tufts competed in the Southern 5 regatta at the University of Rhode Island’s Point Judith Pond. The Jumbos turned in a sixth-place showing among the eight A Division teams with 142 points. In the B Division, the team performed admirably, registering 118 points for second place. The strong B Division showing was not quite enough to make up for a 28-point deficit in the A Division, however, as Tufts ultimately placed sixth overall with 260 points — just six back of fifth-place Yale.

With the conclusion of its team-racing season, Tufts now turns to fleet racing at the Owen Trophy in Kings Point, N.Y. and the President’s Trophy at Boston University. Larger regattas are also on the horizon for the Jumbos.

“We are looking forward to women’s fleet race qualifiers in two weeks and coed the week after that,” Shanley-Roberts said.

Legler noted the differences between the two styles of sailing, as well as the Jumbos’ optimism heading into the new format.

“[Fleet racing] is a much different game,” he said. “Everyone’s out for survival in their own boat, rather than working with teammates. We think we’ve got a good chance of making the top-eight in [co-ed racing] and an excellent chance of making the women’s Nationals.”

Tufts’ recent purchase of six new “Flying Junior” boats, which are used at national competitions, should help them prepare for success.

“The choreography of the tack is a little bit different in those boats, so it’ll become a little more natural for our sailors as they practice in the same boats as we’re sailing in championships,” Legler said. “They’re not [very] different, but it makes the biggest difference mechanically.”