College Sailing: Wisconsin seeks to compete

Published on April 22nd, 2014

The college sailing team rankings are primarily dominated by the New England and Mid Atlantic regions, where well-funded programs have attracted top tier talent. One school not on the list is the University of Wisconsin, a student-run team with Harken heritage. However, as Dan Corcoran of The Badger Herald reports, it’s not for the lack of effort…

As you soak in a warm spring afternoon from an orange chair on the Memorial Union terrace, a thatch of white sails move slowly across the dark azure horizon of Lake Mendota like the clouds that drift lazily in the lighter blue sky above you. But besides signs of a long winter finally broken along with the ice, these sails are much more than a welcome sign of summer – underneath those sails are the faces and stories of the Wisconsin Sailing team.

But this is hardly an ordinary group of 55 sailors, the number of Wisconsin students claiming spots on the roster of the sailing team. Although that number is closer to 40 in terms of consistently active members, together they are among the biggest teams in college sailing.

Part of the reason behind that, though, is Wisconsin is not like many college sailing teams, at least not like those teams on the east coast where sailing, squash and fencing are just as much a part of the athletic cultures of the universities as football and basketball.

At eastern universities like Harvard, where there are 45 student-athletes between the men’s and women’s teams, sailing is a varsity endeavor and rosters are capped at a specific number of athletes.

But more importantly, schools like Harvard have sailing as part of the athletic program, meaning it’s fully funded by the athletic department with just as many resources available to the student-athletes as would be available to the football or basketball teams.

But on any given weekend during the spring, while Lake Mendota still is enclosed by several feet of ice, Wisconsin travels east and races right alongside those varsity programs, which is quite the serious endeavor compared to racing in the Midwest.

“Even the culture at the events [out east] is different,” junior co-captain Whitney Kent, said. ”In our conference everybody is friends. Out there, you might have known someone your whole life, but you barely even talk to them. So it’s a more intense atmosphere.”

With an unpredictable lake like Mendota and erratic Wisconsin weather, much of the spring season for the UW sailing team takes place far away from the confines of the Madison campus. But unlike the other teams in the Midwest, Wisconsin doesn’t let the conditions at home prevent them from getting out on the water. Starting in the second weekend of February, UW travels to at least one race a weekend, if not more, sending anywhere from six sailors to the 37 team members that took part in this year’s spring break trip. – Read on

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