Collegiate student-athletes heading to national sailing regatta

Members of Norfolk Collegiate’s varsity sailing team have been spending their “off season” making their mark in the sailing arena. All of their hard work, dedication and time spent on the water have paid off as last weekend they secured their spot in the national championships in Chicago this Memorial Day weekend.

Since all of the sailing championships are in the spring, but the schools’ sailing season is in the fall, our student-athletes continue to practice and race to be able to qualify for sailing tournaments during the school’s off season. 

“All of the biggest championships are in spring. The Mid-Atlantic Championship is where we have our opportunity to qualify to go to Nationals,” said Randy Stokes, who coaches the varsity sailing team at Collegiate and our student-athletes during the off season. “It (the Mid-Atlantic Championship) circles through all of the leagues in the Mid-Atlantic and includes five states. This year is landed in our area. Our guys last Saturday and Sunday did a fantastic job.”

Qualifying for the nationals wasn’t easy, as the day of the Mid-Atlantic Championships, the weather turned to rain and the temperatures plummeted. 

“It was challenging conditions,” said Stokes of the weekend’s events. “It was a great weekend, and it came down to the very last race for us to qualify. We were tied with one of the Annapolis teams, which are very good. We had beaten them once and they had beaten us once. It came down to the final race and our guys took it. It was an impressive performance by our kids.”

This also means that our student-athletes are now making their way to Chicago over the holiday to compete in a national competition. 

“They will be going up against the best and the rest in the country,” said Stokes. “This will be the first time this group has gone to Nationals, and I’m super excited for them. They have worked really hard to develop themselves into the sailors they are today. It’s a huge amount of dedication. Most of these kids will be sailing in college and will be on a college sailing program where they will meet people at Nationals who they will be sailing with and against in college. It’s a great experience!”

The group consists of 12 students-athletes, including: Mike Klinck ’15; Darden Purrington ’16; Victor Layne ’16; Dreugh Phillips ’16; Nick Baker ’16; Joe Morrison ’16; Daniel Vail ’17; Hunter Kahler ’17; Ellie Maus ’18; Sarah Ellen Smith ’18; Chris Robertson ’19 and Parker Purrington ’19.

“I’m psyched,” said Darden about the team’s trip to Nationals. “We got drafted after the rally great era of sailors graduated. I spent sixth and seventh grade watching them go to Nationals twice and I said, ‘I want to do that!’”

“This is a culmination for us,” Victor added. “This is that point where we take over from them and leave our legacy behind.”
Behind our athletes are also their parents. “We have great parents,” said Stokes. 

Practice makes better sailors
Coaching a sailing team isn’t always easy, however. This spring, Stokes turned to John Ehlers of Aerial Virginia to assist with showing his team how their moves on the water affected the outcome of the race. 

“We would put them (the drones) right over the racers,” said Stokes. “So much of sailing is positioning and understanding. It’s like you’re on a chess board and there are places that you can go that will cause you to win. When you look at it from above, you get a remarkable view of how certain decisions can play out when sailing.”

With the help of Ehlers’ drones, Stokes was able to capture video footage of our students-athletes at practice and in regattas and then use that video footage to better their understanding of what worked and what didn’t work. 

“In a sport where positioning yourself correctly and making the correct moves is critical, looking at it from above gives you a clearer picture than looking at it from ground perspective,” said Stokes. “It gives our students a better perspective of spacing. Their ability to look at the way a race was sailed from above gives them a view of the racecourse that you just don’t get.” 

“It definitely gives you a different perspective,” said Victor. “It helps with the tactical aspects, such as strategy,” added Darden.  

“It also helps point out mistakes,” chimed Victor. “I watch it and I go, ‘Did I really do that?,’” added Darden.

While Stokes just began using this technology, he plans to continue using it come the fall. 

“It has the capacity to be hugely beneficial for the kids,” continued Stokes. “For us, it’s like for team racings, it’s particularly good because you’re showing them when they are creating the opportunity for their opponent to get through.”

Stokes had Ehlers film some practices and then some of the important races. After distilling the footage, Stokes was able to use it in several ways to help the students. 

“I sent the kids some questions and then had them look at the video at a certain spot,” said Stokes. “I then asked them to tell us what we did right and what we did wrong. We also spent one day at Collegiate in a classroom and put in on a screen and worked our way through some video and looked at how their actions that affected the outcome. It has the capacity to be hugely beneficial for the kids.”