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Sailing's Alyson Whitehead Talks About Top-Ranked Team

Junior Alyson Whitehead has propelled the Eagles to a number-one national ranking

Junior Alyson Whitehead has propelled the Eagles to a number-one national ranking

March 2, 2006

Junior Alyson Whitehead of the No. 1-ranked co-ed sailing team anticipates an exciting spring season as the Eagles look to compete with New England District foes such as Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale for a spot in the national championship competition in May and June. The Huntington, N.Y. resident, in her third year on the co-ed squad, is a captain of the BC sailing team.

Q: With Boston's cold weather and less-than-favorable winter climate, where, when and how often do you practice?

A: As soon as we get here in September, our competitive season starts. That lasts until Thanksgiving. Then, we enter the offseason. During the offseason, we workout as a team three times a week in our weightlifting facility, and we hold team meetings once a week. In our meetings, we discuss a lot of team issues and go over our strategy, in terms of our competition. Our spring season has started - it started last weekend in Charleston, S.C. That was our first competition of the spring. During spring break every year, we go down to Miami to train. When we come back, we're in full swing for the season. Our season lasts until the end of the academic year, and if we qualify for Nationals, we'll stay for one week after finals end. Nationals usually take place in the beginning of June.

Q: If you had to describe the nature of competitive collegiate sailing - its demands, challenges, and benefits - to someone who has little familiarity with the sport, what would you say?

A: It all depends on how much you are willing to put into the sport. There are a lot of teams around the country who don't put as much practice time into the sport as we do. There are a lot of teams that are not considered a varsity sport at their schools, and there are a lot of great teams in the country that are not a part of Division I. But, at this school we are. So, that's what I think sets our team apart from the majority of the rest of the collegiate sailing teams in the country, as well as our biggest rivals. We are highly-valued here at school, and we really do value that recognition as a team. We put in a lot of practice time. We start practices at 2 and won't get back to campus until 7, and we have practices four days a week. A lot of other teams don't practice as many times or as often as we do.

Q: BC's co-ed sailing team reached the No. 1-ranked spot back in October, and fell to No. 6 in January before reclaiming the top spot in February. Give us a recap of the team's performance this season.

A: Well, the great thing about our team right now is that we are a very young team. A lot of our top sailors are freshmen and sophomores. But, at the same time, we have a lot of depth. So, our seniors and our juniors do compete at the high levels on our team and contribute as much as everybody else does. We graduated a lot of great seniors last year, so we were able to fill in those spots. The freshmen have done a great job of doing that. In terms of our ranking, we do pay attention to the rankings. But, at the same time, our coach [Greg Wilkinson] says that you really don't want to pay that much attention to them because at the end of the season it really does come down to Nationals. We were ranked No. 1 in the beginning, and we were really psyched about that because it does motivate you to a certain extent. There's a lot of pressure to keep that No. 1 ranking, and the rankings do change every two weeks. It just depends upon our competition every weekend, in terms of if you climb in the rankings or fall. We didn't perform as well as we would have hoped in the ACC Championships last semester, so that set us back to a No. 6 ranking. But that was one competition, and we gained strength from something like that. We hope to do well this semester and qualify for Nationals.

Q: The sailing team is having perhaps its best year ever - the coed team was ranked No. 1 for six weeks this fall and now is back on top of the polls. What have been the keys to success so far this year?

A: Like I said before, the depth of the team is something that is completely unique. Greg [Wilkinson] has mentioned this before, and we talk about it a lot. We haven't had this kind of depth ever before on a Boston College sailing team. It's the kind of team where, if somebody gets injured, there are 10 other people in line who can take your place and back you up. We have a lot of very dedicated sailors on the team who are willing to give up anything (in terms of practicing and competing). Every person on this team is very passionate about this sport. Greg does a great job of setting high but realistic goals for our team, and he reminds us of these goals. He's done a great job of letting us know that we have this great potential and then ultimately saying that it's up to you to get there. That takes a lot of giving it your all in practice.

Q: Recently, the sailing team competed in Long Beach, Calif., at the Rose Bowl Regatta. BC took first place in a field that featured six of the nation's top-10 collegiate sailing teams. How important was it to start the 2006 slate on such a high note?

A: It was very important, especially because it was in California. Two great teams that are a big part of our competition are out there - USC [University of Southern California] and Hawaii. They both have very strong teams. It was great to get out there and race against those top teams. We don't get to race against them every weekend because we spend most of our time on the East Coast, and they don't get over here as much. In terms of starting off on the right foot, it was great that we were able to win it there. We definitely look forward to continuing that success.

Q: Your national championships aren't until late May. Ranked No. 1, the team must be feeling some pressure to keep the momentum going into your championships. What will the team be doing this spring to continue to improve while other teams work hard to catch the Eagles?

A: There's a qualifying regatta for Nationals in May. The top boats qualify for Nationals, so it comes down to one regatta. It does not come down to your record over the semester or over the year. But on that note, we have to put forth 100 percent of our effort at every regatta that we go to and every practice that we hold. Learning from those mistakes that we make in those regattas and learning from our mistakes in practice will help build our strength for the qualifiers and for Nationals.

Q: Going into the spring season, which teams are your biggest rivals or the biggest threats to take over the No. 1 spot in coed sailing?

A: In terms of the qualifier, we race within the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association's (NEISA) District. Our rivals in terms of NEISA are Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale. Overall, in terms of a national scale, Hawaii and USC have great teams. Last weekend we were at Charleston, and they've got a great team. St. Mary's and Georgetown are also very strong. You'll see that the rankings do fluctuate every time they come out. There are a handful of teams that compete for that number one spot.

Q: From late February through early May, the sailing team is competing nearly every weekend. How demanding is your schedule, and how are you able to balance a difficult load of classes with your races?

A: There's a lot more traveling going on in the spring. We were in Charleston last weekend, and I don't think we're going to spend a weekend in Boston for at least a month. It takes a lot of self-discipline. As soon as I arrived as a freshman, it forced me into time management. When my roommates, who aren't on the sailing team, are watching TV, that's when I have to be doing work. I don't have that leisure time that a lot of other students do. But the experience I've had here has been so rewarding. We do travel with our class work. A lot of us take our laptops with us, and we get work done in hotels and on airplanes. It's a lot to handle, but it's definitely worth it.

Q: Your skipper, Adam Roberts, whom you sail with at practice and competitions, is a freshman. Talk about being able to work with Adam, who recently qualified for the 2006 U.S. Sailing Team in the 470 Class.

A: Adam is an incredible sailor, and everybody in the sailing world knows that. He came into college with a lot under his belt. But, at the same time, he got put together with me - a junior who has been in college sailing for a few years and has a lot of experience. If you talk to anybody in the sailing world, they will tell you that college sailing is very unique. A lot of freshmen, in general, have a tough time making that transition from U.S. sailing and youth sailing to college sailing. Adam, fortunately for our team, made that transition in a snap. He didn't really struggle with that as much as some other freshmen across the country have. He has taught me a lot more about the sport. I've learned so much from him over the past few months. But I've felt a responsibility to help lead him in the direction of college sailing. We work extremely well together, and we have the same type of attitude on the boat. We're known to be pretty intense when we're out on the water. Our attitudes really match up well.

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    - interview conducted by senior Alex Timiraos
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