URI women’s sailing team is top-ranked team in nation for first time in school history

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UPDATE: After a bumpy, practice-starved start, the Rams came back from 21 points down after day one to win the Charleston Women’s Interconference Regatta in the final set. Rachel Bryer and Hannah Scanlon won the A division, finishing with 4 bullets in the final 5 races. (Feb. 27-28)

KINGSTON, R.I. – February 25, 2016 — The University of Rhode Island women’s sailing team got its first taste of life at the top toward the end of the fall when it took over the No. 1 national ranking for the first time in school history at the penultimate event of the season.

With the spring season set to begin Saturday, the Rams intend to keep a firm grasp on the No. 1 ranking and, hopefully, finish the year with a championship.

“Obviously, we want to hold on to the top spot, but it’s going to be a hard season,” said junior skipper Rachel Bryer, of Jamestown. “You have to live up to your reputation as the top team at every race, so it can be stressful. We’ve always been the underdogs, but it will be nice going into events knowing that the other teams get nervous when you’re there.”

Chief among the Rams’ concerns heading into the spring season is their ability to adjust to the pressure that naturally comes with a top ranking. Coach Skip Whyte, of Wickford, in his third year at the helm for Rhody, said that after earning the top designation in the fall, the team faltered a bit on its way to a tie for first in the season’s final event, which he expected to win.

“I think they were happy to be No. 1, but not totally comfortable with being there,” said Whyte, a former U.S. Olympic sailing coach. “We came out guns blazing at the Atlantic Coast Championships, but we had a tiny bit of adversity and it snowballed on us. We lost our cool, couldn’t hold on and tied for first.”

However, the team has now had a few months to get used to the idea of being the top gun in the water, and crew Hannah Scanlon, a sophomore from Warren, said the team has changed its mindset heading into the spring.

“There’s extra pressure going because everyone expects you to do really well and that can make you nervous and second-guess yourself, but I think our own expectations are really high,” she said. “We might still get a little nervous, but we’ve gotten used to doing really well. This forces us to up our game and take every practice and workout really seriously.”

Like many spring sports teams at URI, the Rams are at a small disadvantage compared to teams from the south because of weather. Rhody has only gotten on the water twice so far as it prepares for the notoriously challenging College of Charleston Women’s Interconference race this weekend in Charleston, S.C.

The Rams, though, are less concerned with their lack of time on the water than they are with tackling the unique challenges posed by the Charleston course.

“It’s a tricky spot. The race takes place in a harbor that has three rivers flowing into it, giving it a tricky current,” Whyte said.

Nonetheless, Whyte and his team are confident they’ll get the ball rolling on a successful season in Charleston.

If the Rams want to hold onto their No. 1 ranking this season, they’ll have to contend with the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, based in Groton, Conn., which is perhaps URI’s most formidable foe. The Rams took the top spot from the Bears in the fall, and Bryer said the team’s aspirations to win a national championship will be challenged by the Coast Guard.

“Realistically, I think we’ll be in the top two, and it’s probably between us and the Coast Guard Academy,” she said. “I wouldn’t say winning nationals is a given, but we think we can do it.”

Pictured above

University of Rhode Island women’s sailing team members (from left) Sarah Hermus, Marisa Decollibus, Rachel Bryer, Hannah Scanlon and Courtney Bombardier are prepared to fend off opposing teams hoping to knock them out of the top rank in the nation as they begin the spring season this weekend.

Photo courtesy of Skip Whyte