RWU sails past Ivy League competition to national championship

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 5/15/24

The RWU Hawks finished on top of the leader board against top sailing teams from Harvard, Yale, and Brown at the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association Open Team Race National Championship.

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RWU sails past Ivy League competition to national championship


The Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association Open Team Race National Championship, held the last weekend in April in Boston, saw the Roger Williams University Hawks finish on top of the leader board against top sailing teams from Harvard, Yale, and Brown.

RWU has long had a strong sailing program. They haven’t won the national team championship since 2011, but they have come close in recent years, finishing second in 2018, 2021, and 2022.

Following three days of competition on the Charles River, RWU completed the regatta with an 18-4 record on the year, claiming their title by edging out hosting Harvard, who finished with a record of 17.5-4. Senior Aidan Hoogland, from Chula Vista, Calif., sophomore Carlos Bermudez de Castro, from La Coruna, Spain, and sophomore Kyle Pfrang, from Suffolk, Va., skippered the Hawks with crew senior Michaela O'Donnell, from Elyria, Ohio, junior Carly Kiss, from Pewaukee, Wis., and junior Claire Buckley, from Bridgewater, Conn.

According to sailor Carly Kiss, the team had a season full of ups and downs, but got fired up by their underdog energy and great support at the biggest college sailing event in the country.

“We sailed incredibly well as a team,” she said. “We were up and down throughout the season but at this event everyone was at their best.”

“We are over the moon,” said RWU Sailing Head Coach Amanda Callahan. “It felt like everything came together at the right time.”

In team racing, races are run with two teams competing in three boats each, so a total of six boats are on the course. Using both speed and strategy, each team tries to get the lowest combined score of their three boats, ideally finishing first, second, and third. Boats may block or force opponents to sail further distances, allowing their teammates to finish sooner.

The RWU team was in second place heading into the final day of competition, with Harvard losing half a point due to boat damage. The regatta's scheduled final four was called off as the multiple days of low wind forced the regatta to end after the Round of Eight, with RWU holding the lead. Yale placed third in the event, and Brown finished fourth.

RWU also enjoyed great support from a contingent of teammates, alumni, and parents past and present who were on hand, offering encouragement.

“We had six sailors on the water and five on the dock as alternates, and the rest of the sailing team came up with cow bells and big signs,” said Callahan. “You normally don’t get a lot of cheering when you’re sailing, it’s kind of solitary. But that team fired everyone up.”

As celebratory as it was, the event came to a bit of a bumpy conclusion.
“We beat Harvard and we sailed into the deck and no one was cheering for us,” said Kiss. “There was a protest that took two hours to resolve…but we had already celebrated. That two hours is probably the most anxious I’ve ever felt.”

“The team crossed the finish line and celebrated, but on the dock we knew that things were pending,” said Callahan. “As much as we wanted to celebrate we knew it wasn’t a wrap. It made the ending a lot more stressful than it had to be.”

The team spent the season training on an entirely new fleet of boats, FJs, built by Bristol’s Zim Sailing. Not only did the sailors have the benefit of training on new boats, but it also afforded them the opportunity to practice on the same model of boats that would be used during a good portion of the competition.

The team got their new boats, funded entirely through private donations and the McGraw Foundation, just in time for the 2023-24 sailing season.

“This is an awesome achievement,” said W. Brett McKenzie, Professor Emeritus, who formerly served as the Sailing Team representative. "Congratulations to the competitors, the rest of the team who made them such fierce competitors, and Coach Callahan who honed their skills and under whose leadership the RWU Sailing Team has become nationally ranked.”

2024 by East Bay Media Group

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