USF sailing coach Stephanie Doyle has heard the compliments from other coaches. Their words have an air of admiration, and maybe just a little concern.
“A lot of people call USF the sleeping giant of college sailing,” Doyle said.
But if last weekend’s performance is any indication, the giant may be awake and alert.
Senior Genoa Griffin finished fourth in the singlehanded event at the prestigious North American Championship. It is the first time USF has earned a top-5 finish at a North American event. Maybe more importantly for the Bulls, Griffin’s performance vaulted the team to a national ranking of eighth.
Griffin said she was disappointed in how she sailed at last year’s championships, but did not expect a performance of this magnitude.
“It felt good,” Griffin said. “I felt like I was really in the groove.”
Griffin was solid on the first two days of the three-day event. But, with the dawn of the final day of competition came a strong wind that Doyle said was about 20 knots. And while Griffin’s competitors struggled and floundered in the harsh conditions, she excelled, scoring two firsts and a second in three consecutive races.
“I think that her physical training enabled her to power through some windy conditions (in which) other people grew tired and weren’t able to compete as well,” Doyle said. “She was just in top physical condition. She was able to keep the boat upright and sail.”
Griffin credited her ability to handle the conditions to mental toughness.
“A lot of girls kind of freaked out a little or started to lose their confidence,” Griffin said. “I’m not really scared about things like that because I’ve been sailing for so long. I felt like I had the edge.”
Last weekend’s performance is just the latest in a string of strong showings dating back to last spring. The women’s team won its way into the national championships in Hawaii, where it finished a respectable 13th. And now, with the latest strong performance, Doyle said the team is beginning to work its way into the ranks of the nation’s elite.
“I think that we’ve worked hard for it,” Doyle said. “I didn’t expect it to come so soon. I just hope we can stay focused and continue on the path we seem to be on.”
Griffin echoed her coach’s comments.
“We’re not the underdogs anymore,” Griffin said.
The immediate result for the Bulls, Doyle said, should be a strong recruiting class. Doyle said with weather and conditions that allow for year-round sailing, USF is the perfect place for a team to flourish.
As for the present, with her team being mentioned in the same breath as sailing powerhouses Yale and Old Dominion, Doyle said she is cautiously enjoying the increased attention.
“It’s really gratifying,” Doyle said. “But I know there is more work to be done.
“I’m not going to get too excited yet because I know there is more sailing to do.”