This weekend marks the coming of one of the biggest events in the 10-year history of the USF sailing team.
The team will travel to the College of Charleston to battle for a district championship and the right to sail in Hawaii at the national championship regatta.
Head coach Stephanie Doyle said she feels confident that her team can advance to the national regatta.
“I think we have a very good shot at going to nationals,” Doyle said.
To earn a trip to Hawaii, the team will have to finish in the top two during this weekend’s regatta. Doyle said the toughest teams to beat will be Eckerd, a St. Petersburg-based team the Bulls know very well, and the College of Charleston, which is the host and is ranked No. 8 in the country.
The Bulls have competed against both teams this season. Charleston has shown its national prowess, beating both USF and Eckerd convincingly. Eckerd and the Bulls have been neck and neck in their shared events this season.
The head-to-head competition during the regular season may be, however, a poor indication of how this weekend will unfold. As is common in sailing, the Bulls have sent teams to two or three competitions every weekend. Inexperienced sailors are allowed to race in order to gain experience. It is likely that Charleston, USF and Eckerd may have yet to face one another’s best sailors.
Doyle said she is not too worried about finishing strong this weekend.
“I think that we could finish in the top two easily,” she said.
Doyle said the format of the event is slightly different for the team.
The first day, Doyle said, will be team races while the second day will be regular fleet racing.
In addition, Doyle said the team will have to compete in a type of boat known as the 420s, in which they don’t normally sail. Doyle said the team has been practicing in the 420 boats, and she is not worried that the difference will affect performance.
“Typically we perform very well on the 420s,” Doyle said.Another concern for the Bulls will be the fact that they have not competed for three weeks. With the team having already qualified for the district regatta and having nothing further to gain, Doyle elected not to participate in events at Georgia Tech and the Naval Academy last weekend. She said the events were canceled due to lack of funds.
“We didn’t go to save money,” Doyle said. “In case we make Hawaii we want to make sure we have enough money to do that.”Doyle said the team worked to stay in competitive shape by participating in a scrimmage last weekend against Brown and Eckerd. She said the event was unscored but gave the team a good chance to race and stay sharp.
The fact that the team will compete in just the one important regatta this weekend will also be a difference. Normally, with two or three regattas in a weekend, most of the team competes.
This weekend, however, will be three-on-three team racing, with each schools’ three best sailors competing against each other.
Doyle said she is looking forward to the weekend and to the chance of possibly making it to Hawaii.
“(It’s exciting) to have the top three schools in the South competing against each other,” she said.
Rob Brannon covers sailing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org