Sailing continues to dazzle against top competition

September 25, 2013

As Hoya fans await basketball season patiently, one team on campus is preparing to make a different kind of buzz. Perennially below the radar, the Hoya sailing team numbers among the strongest teams on campus. Even though Georgetown’s sailing team is strong enough to be one of the best teams in the country, they are yet to be the talk of the campus. Anyone who talks to sailing coach Mike Callahan wouldn’t notice, though.

Callahan manages to combine high expectations with a patient temperament. “Our expectations are that we try to improve every day,” he said. “We have the potential to be really good.” Yet, despite his high sights, he stresses that process and training trump short-term results: “The way we do it is unorthodox, the way we do it is not like other colleges, and that’s what I think is what makes our program better. You look at a team like a Harvard, or a Boston College, or a Yale, or a Stanford… They have no walk-ons.”

Unlike those schools, Callahan believes in giving any committed athlete a chance to be a great sailor. “My belief is that college athletics should be a fun part of your life here,” he said. “People who do it enjoy it, it’s not like they are being told to do it or are being made to do it.”

For those who don’t follow the cutthroat culture of modern collegiate athletics, Callahan’s ethos might come off as the musings of a man who rationally understands that fun should be a part of college athletics. Yet at a time where impatience and shortsighted priorities reign, Callahan’s view that any athlete, particularly those who played sports in high school, should be given a chance to succeed is rather unusual.  Most remarkably of all, Callahan does not use his open-minded patience to justify mediocrity. Even though Georgetown’s sailing team is arguably the strongest team on campus, Callahan describes its current form as “not very good.”

When talking about the team’s most recent regatta at Dartmouth, Callahan talked about his three best female sailors, senior Amanda Taselaar, senior Nancy Hagood, and junior Katia Da Silva, before blithely mentioning that he “gave each of them the week off.” For some, it would be unconscionable to use a competition against some of the strongest competitors in the country as a learning experience for younger sailors, but that is what Callahan chose to do.

Some other coaches would criticize this philosophy as overly lax, yet it’s hard to argue with his results. Not only did they finish sixth against the other schools’ best competition, but they showed they could compete with the nation’s elite. “The girls all left thinking that they could have done much better. The top two teams in the national championship, Dartmouth and Yale, had their top teams there, and we were very close to them,” Callahan said.

This week, Callahan gave his top male sailor, Nevin Snow, the week off “to catch up with work and life.” Yet, despite this clear loss, Callahan noted that the coed side was still “in the hunt for first place.”

Nobody can know whether strong early season results can carry over later in the year, though Callahan deserves credit for trusting his younger sailors and recognizing that “work and life” matter as well. The younger sailors deserve praise in equal measure for rising to the occasion. In a day where the integrity of the student athlete is slowly eroding, Mike Callahan and Georgetown sailing show that patience isn’t just a good maxim, but that it makes for an excellent team with excellent athletes.

The Hoyas will be back in action on September 28th, as different parts of the team will travel to Great Neck, NY, Annapolis, Maryland, and St. Mary’s City, Maryland.

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