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Title−bearers once again, this time in new sector: Coed sailing wins ICSA Match Racing National Championship

Another title adds to Legler’s history of success

Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 08:11

sailsail

Courtesy Ken Legler

The coed sailing team, seen here practicing in Boston Harbor, added extra practices in the last several months to improve their match racing, and the work paid off as Tufts overcame Yale in the National Championship.

In 32 years of coaching at Tufts, coed and women’s sailing head coach Ken Legler has won 19 national championships — eight women’s, five team racing, three dinghy, three singlehanded — and has produced 92 All−Americans.

But the match racing national title, awarded this year at the ICSA Match Race National Championship hosted in Fort Worth, Texas, has always eluded Legler and his team.

At least, it had until this past weekend.

In just the team’s second appearance at the race since 2004, Tufts avenged its finals loss during the New England Match Racing Championship qualifier, taking down Yale in a nail−biting finish and earning Tufts the sixth and final college sailing national title to have eluded their impressive sailing program.

“It was pretty cool, considering Tufts won two nationals the same day,” said senior tri−captain William Hutchings, referring to the field hockey team’s triumph. “We’ve won every national championship several times — all except for the sloop.”

Last year, the Jumbos broke through for the first time since 2004 and made it into the Sloop Nationals, then hosted in San Francisco. But they left the weekend feeling disappointed after finishing at a middle−of−the−pack fifth place.

This year, then−sophomores Will Haeger (skipper) and classmate David Liebenberg (bow) returned to the team as seasoned juniors, resolved to not beat themselves as they felt they had last year. With help from fellow classmates Paula Grasberger (pit and trimming spinnaker) and Solomon Krevans (trimming, main sheet), they formed the four−person junior core that broke through to win it all after practicing hard since qualifiers.

“Our sloop team has been sailing out of Boston harbor, in addition to normal co−ed practice, twice a week since mid−October,” Hutchings said. “[We] practiced hard for two months and sparred against a Tufts B boat. [Senior] Albert Nichols, who has a significant match racing background outside of Tufts, put in a lot of time coaching our sloop team leading up to Nationals.”

In the initial round−robin, Tufts faced off against nine other teams, accumulating a quick 7−2 start to earn the No. 2 seed — a record equaled only by Georgetown and round−robin winner Saint Mary’s College, which earned tie−breakers over both teams.

Moving onto the quarterfinals, the team faced Eckerd College, earning the easy sweep and padding their win percentage along the way.

The semifinals proved to be more of a challenge, as they met with a third−seeded Georgetown squad that had swept its opponent, the University of Washington, in the previous round.

However, the Hoyas ultimately fell as the Jumbos swept them 3−0, earning their first and third win with superior speed, and receiving the judge’s decision in the second race when the two boats experienced minor contact in a neck−and−neck thriller at the finish line.

Their place secured in the finals, Tufts faced off against a familiar Yale team, which not only triumphed over Saint Mary’s 3−1, but also pummeled the Jumbos during qualifiers.

Having met the Jumbos in October, the Bulldogs triumphed during the qualifying finals 2−0, ruining what would have otherwise been a flawless performance.

This time, the Jumbos would flip the script on their opponent.

After being flagged for a penalty at the start, the Jumbos began at a disadvantage and never really recovered as the Bulldogs handled them easily in the first race.

In the second race, however, fortune smiled on the Jumbos as the Bulldogs started early, getting subsequently penalized with a restart and giving the Jumbos the boost they needed.

Tufts led the entire way, evening the score at one race apiece in the best−of−three finals.

Back at home, the remainder of the Jumbos kept a close eye on their team’s progress, with their coach offering running commentary via radio.

“Once we started to pull away, [Coach Legler] started getting pretty excited and emotional,” Hutchings said. “It’s a big deal for him too, winning every championship except this one.”

Coming down to the third race, both teams sailed neck−and−neck, with their season on the line, but Tufts managed an early lead that ballooned as their seasoned core rode 15−knot winds to the finish line.

With the win, the co−ed sailing team’s season is officially complete, having ended on what might have been the highest possible note.

“Winning nationals is pretty awesome. It’s not something you experience every day,” Grasberger said. “The team’s been incredibly supportive, [and] we had a lot of [people] dedicated to helping us practice. When we got off the plane, there was just a whole bunch of people at the gate at 1 a.m., and they rushed to greet us as we came down the stairs.”

And what of the achievement for Coach Legler?

“He was completely psyched. Coaching for 30−some−odd years, this was his only nationals he’d never won, so it’s something you’d have wanted to happen eventually for him, to add another achievement,” Grasberger added.

Now, with the break under way, the Jumbos will hope that they can repeat their progress next season with another year remaining for their intrepid core — and another year’s opportunity to add to Legler’s legacy.

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