Sailing into History: GW's Newest Varsity Sport Completes Maiden Voyage

The GW sailing team completed its first semester as a varsity program in the fall of 2012.

Dec. 3, 2012

by Kristi Saporito

End of the Season for GW Sailing by senior Sloan Dickey

WASHINGTON - Prior to the fall of 2012 season, GW sailing was a fully functioning, yet self-sustaining, club team.  After gaining varsity status and a head coach this past summer, the team completed their inaugural semester as GW's 23rd varsity sport earlier this month.  

The transition from club to varsity status may not seem like a radical transition for the student-athletes, who are still heading down GW Parkway to the Washington Sailing Marina and Potomac River just as they did as a club.  However, the resources and support provided by the Athletics Department and first-year head coach John Pearce has dramatically improved the sailing experience for the Colonials.  

"I was the treasurer for two years with the club team and I oversaw the financial transition," said senior Ian Conners.  "The transition has just been more time for me to not worry about making sure the team functions and just show up and actually sail." 

Executive board members with the club team would typically spend 40-to-50 hours each week taking care of the logistical side of running the sailing program, transportation, entering competitions and arranging practice times were among the plethora of duties burdened on the sailors.

"It was frustrating because there were times where we would have to skip a practice because we were doing something with a van or a boat," said Conners.   

With the adoption of sailing as a varsity sport, the Athletics Department now oversees the administrative side of the sport.  Having Athletics handle the nuts and bolts has allowed the sailors to focus on what they are training to do, sail, and sail fast.



The sailors will be able to spend even more time out on the water in the spring after taking advantage of the academic support services provided by the Athletics Department for the first time.  Many student-athletes will double their practice time as a result of assistance with class scheduling and expect to see great improvements in skill, race finishes and team cohesion as a result. 

Along with carrying out time-consuming administrative tasks, club sailors had to coach each other and themselves.  The addition of head coach John Pearce was the final piece of the varsity sailing puzzle.

"John was an All-American, so he's already a great sailor, and then he's also a great teacher.  When you mix the two together it's kind of beautiful," said senior Rebecca Engel.  "He is able to see things.  Even that one small change can make a world of difference, so even if you thought you had mastered something he tells you one small change you can make and all of a sudden you're better."

The birth of a varsity program was a learning experience for Coach Pearce as well as the student-athletes. 

"I didn't really know what to expect, honestly.  I knew they were a well-organized club team so there would be some leadership already in place," said the 2004 Hobart graduate. "Over the summer I met with some of the seniors who were here on campus and got to know them better so that helped a lot to kind of get a starting point."

Once a team of 26 sailors was established, GW's newest varsity sport embarked on its first-semester journey in early September.  The squad finished middle-of-the-pack in most fall events and placed ninth out of 14 in the MAISA women's fall championship and 15th out of 18 in the MAISA coed fall championship against some of the nation's top programs.  With the first semester under its belt, the team looks forward to improving in a spring that will feature a heavier competition schedule.  

"To use a basketball analogy, we spent all fall shooting and passing and dribbling, and the spring is where we're actually going to start running plays," said Conners, an aerospace engineering major. "I'm expecting that we'll improve a lot faster than we did in the fall."

Coach Pearce also has high expectations for his team in the upcoming semester.

"We want to improve our finish at the conference championship.  A lot of people who would be really critical to [qualifying for the Atlantic Coast Championship] have made big improvements.  We have a lot of freshmen who are in really important roles on the team, so for them the learning curve is just straight up in the air," said GW's first-ever head sailing coach. 

With the support of the Athletic Department, sailing has put a strong first semester in the history books.  GW sailors no longer have to worry about managing a budget or coaching each other.  Varsity status has allowed these student-athletes to spend more time pursuing their passion for sailing.   

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