KINGSTON, R.I. – November 17, 2008 – The University of Rhode Island sailing club team continued its national dominance in the sport, winning the 2008 Kennedy Cup, hosted by the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland Nov. 7 through 9.
By winning the Kennedy Cup – the equivalent of a national championship for collegiate sailing – for the 11th time in school history, URI will represent the United States at the 2009 Student Yachting World Cup in France. It will be the second trip to the World Cup in three years. URI last went to the World Cup in 2007, when it finished seventh overall.
In the Kennedy Cup, teams sail a series of eight races, and team points are based on the order the boats finish each race. First place in each race earns one point, second place earns two points, and so on, with the lowest cumulative score winning the title.
After top-five finishes in each of the first seven races – including a pair of first-place finishes – Rhody held a slim 19-21 lead over defending-champion Navy entering the final race. That meant the Rams had to finish no worse than two spots behind Navy to clinch the title. After a slow start to the final race, URI found itself three boats behind Navy.
“We had a bad start, and Navy was making a good run,” said URI head coach Joey Mello, of Dartmouth, Mass. “The focus for our guys was to chip away at the lead. We stayed composed. It was a long race, and if we had been too wrapped up in the slow start, we wouldn’t have been able to catch Navy.”
URI was able to pass two boats and finish one spot behind Navy to clinch the title with 23 points. Navy finished with 24 points, well ahead of third-place U.S. Coast Guard (38). For Mello – a former team member now in his fourth season as coach – it marked the second Kennedy Cup for URI in three appearances. Because URI competed at the World Cup in 2007, it did not compete in last year’s Kennedy Cup.
The nine students competing for URI at the Kennedy Cup were Seniors Russell Miller (Annapolis, Md./pit) and Robbie Kane (Fairfield, Conn./trimmer); juniors Alex Baittinger (Saunderstown/floater-tactics), Jessie Fielding (North Kingstown/skipper), Carl Merrill (Hope, Maine/mast), Scott Millard (East Greenwich/trimmer) and Nat Tingley (Providence/alternate); and sophomores Weston Barlow (Wakefield/bow) and Jeremy Henry (Groton, Mass./trimmer). Those students represented the 63 members of the URI sailing club.
“What this group was able to do was represent the work of the URI sailing team as a whole,” said Mello, a 2004 graduate of URI. “We focus on the success as a program, so there were many students who played a role in this championship.”
Because of roster stipulations and other factors, the team that competed at the Kennedy Cup will differ from the one that goes to France next fall. In the World Cup, there are seven positions, and each team must include at least two women on the boat. Students also must decide whether they can miss two weeks of school for the World Cup. Though the dates have not been finalized yet, it likely will be held early next November.
“We are still in the transition phase of going from winning the K-Cup to preparing for the World Cup, so there is a lot of work to do,” said Mello, whose team will work with URI Recreation Services and the Department of Athletics to raise $40,000 to send the team to France.
Miller was the lone member of this year’s team that also competed at the 2007 World Cup. That team finished seventh in the world.
“That competition was a big eye opener for our program,” Mello said. “We want to improve on that finish, which we feel we’ll be able to do.”
URI last won the World Cup in 1990. It also finished second in 1992, 1993 and 2004, while taking third in 1988 and 1998.
“What we have done in the past few years pales in comparison to the overall history of success for the sailing team here,” Mello said. “There is a rich tradition of success at URI, and this team is just keeping that alive.”
KENNEDY CUP – The URI sailing team competes at the Kennedy Cup, hosted by the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland Nov. 7 through 9. Photoi by Jahn Tihansky
SAILING TEAM – The University of Rhode Island sailing team poses with the Kennedy Cup, which it won for the 11th time. First Row (l to r): Carl Merrill, Nat Tingley, Jesse Fielding, Robbie Kane, Westy Barlow. Second Row (l to r) Alex Baittinger, Jeremy Henry, Russell Miller. Blocked from view in the back row is Scott Millard. Photoi by Jahn Tihansky