CofC Sailing looks to rebound this season
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
by Hunter Lawrence
The College of Charleston sailing team was at an all-time high in 2019, coming off a National Championship season - its second in three years.
The CofC sailors were national champions in 2017 and 2019, and many considered the mid-sized school in Charleston, South Carolina, the premier sailing program in the country.
An unprecedented global pandemic had other ideas.
Now, with COVID still rearing its ugly head, the program is trying to rebuild and answer questions about rebuilding the team spirit, navigating shifts in leadership and finding the hunger again that made them a force to be reckoned with in the sailing world.
Harrison Koller, a sailor from Annapolis, Maryland, was on both national championship winning teams in 2017 and 2019.
Koller said the team dynamic and morale was at an all-time high pre-pandemic.
“The team my freshman year felt like a well-oiled machine that played hard and celebrated hard as a group but was hungry to win more,” said Koller.
For Koller, the camaraderie of the team was one of the biggest highlights
“The team provided me with both a great group of friends and a place for me to work on becoming a better sailor every day. The experience I gained and the friends I made will stay with me for the rest of my life and I am thankful to have been a part of such a great program.”
Julia Jeffries, a senior from Boston, was a part of the 2019 championship winning team and said the team had a tremendous amount of momentum going into the 2020 season.
“We had generated huge momentum from top to bottom and we were coming off back-to-back wins,” she said. "We had a plan heading into national championship qualifiers.”
That momentum they worked so hard to build came to a screeching halt when the pandemic kept them on the docks permanently.
Jeffries said it wasn’t just their on-water performance that was affected by the pandemic.
“There was no team morale as school regulations kept us from congregating as a team outside of practices," she said. "We had not come together as a team on or off the water and it affected our performance.”
Lawson Levine, a junior from Highland Park, Illinois, carried that same sentiment about team morale.
“Covid definitely impacted the entire team morale, opportunity for sailing at an individual basis and many of the team bonding traditions,” he said, noting that the pandemic also meant fewer regattas and fewer spots for individuals to race. "The team did not know any of the new freshmen and it took a much longer time for the team connection to gain strength. Many team traditions such as initiation night, Thanksgiving, semi-formal and themed parties were not reinstated until two years after.”
As the pandemic and school regulations continued to keep the team away from each other, Koller said friend groups started to form, creating a divide in team morale and cohesiveness.
“COVID had a huge impact on team dynamic,” Koller said. ”It took away our ability to meet outside of team sanctioned activities which forced social divisions that made the team feel splintered and not one cohesive unit.”
Koller has ideas on what the team needs to do to move forward and be successful.
“From my perspective the team needs to come together into one big group again and both be pushed by the coaches as well as push each other to be active, attentive and hungry for a championship,” he said
Being attentive and active were two things many of the sailors mentioned. Activities that used to be part of the day-to-day routine quickly fell to the wayside and affected team performance and morale.
“Over time the team seemed to fall into social groupings more than a singular team which was exacerbated by COVID and little things went by the wayside (such as study hall hours for the freshman) as well as a loss of faith in the leadership,” said Koller.
Jeffries cited that the punishments for missing team-sanctioned events were little to none, which held no one accountable, thus the team treated these important activities as optional.
“I have felt that the day-to-day expectations for the athletes have been incredibly low. There were little to no consequences for missing study hall hours, team lifts, or practices… If standards are not met then athletes should be reprimanded or removed from the team, not left to hold a low standard and affecting the team’s overall performance.”
As a freshman, Jeffries was one of two first-year sailors to be in the starting lineup of the National Championship-winning team. Jeffries talked about how close the sailors were that year before the pandemic.
“I was super close with the starting eight traveling lineup made up mostly of upperclassmen,” she said. “It was truly heartbreaking when COVID ended our season early, we were a super knit group with talented athletes, we were in contention for a championship.”
Jeffries said that COVID affected her sophomore and junior seasons in a major way.
“COVID completely affected my sophomore season and sealed my fate for my junior season," she said. "I missed the first two weeks of the fall season due to a covid related incident and the first month of the spring season after testing positive for COVID a week before the season. Since then, I have been unable to redeem myself in the coaches’ eyes despite strong performances in practices.”
The biggest takeaway from sailors is that the global pandemic stuck a divide in the team, on and off the water.
As far as expectations for the upcoming season, Levine and Jeffries echoed a similar message.
“The teams’ expectations this year are to qualify for all six national championships and place, putting us in contention for another Fowel trophy (awarded to the college sailing team with the best performances overall national championship performances)” said Jeffries.
Levine mirrors Jeffries' expectations.
“The team's expectations for this year are to qualify for all the nationals events - Single handed, Match race and 420/FJ and place well at all events,” Levine said. “We have a solid freshman class who can contribute and help our older starting kids perform well.”