Youthful Dons surpass own goal
When the Cathedral Catholic sailing team started practicing for the year-round club sport last summer, the Dons aimed to achieve what seemed to be a rather lofty goal.
Despite fielding an underclassmen heavy team with just one senior, the Dons set out to qualify for the national championships.
Perhaps it was overly ambitious, and maybe even a bit unrealistic, but the Dons last month showed they're no cockeyed optimists.
Cathedral Catholic exceeded its ambitions, placing second at the May 8 to 10 U.S. High School National Sailing Championships in St. Petersburg, Fla. The competition was held at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club on Tampa Bay and hosted by the University of Southern Florida.
The Dons, who were making their first appearance at the nationals since 2007, finished behind perennial power Newport Harbor, which placed among the top three in the nation for a third consecutive year.
The 20 teams competing in the nationals raced in two divisions, with 18 regattas (races) spaced over two days, making it difficult to keep track of scoring for the sailors who were competing amid high temperatures and high humidity.
The Dons didn't know what to make of it when race organizers flashed what were mistakenly interpreted as "peace signs" at the end of the grueling competition.
The Dons soon learned they were no peace signs, and that they'd turned in a surprising second place finish.
"Everybody freaked out, we were totally surprised," junior skipper Mallory Schluter said.
By their own best calculations, the Dons were anticipating a fourth place finish.
"The first day of the regatta and we thought were doing really bad and we just said 'let's have fun,' and then we just started doing better and better," Schluter said.
The Dons sent seven sailors to nationals: freshman skipper Nevin Snow and junior skippers Schluter and Judge Ryan and Schluter, junior crewmembers Erica Parker and Shelby Hamilton and freshman crewmembers Georgie Ryan and Eugene Vivino.
Other members of the team who did not go to St. Petersburg are senior Nick Bennett, junior Mark Torres, sophomore Alex Ranum, and freshmen Michelle Catania and Breanne Baldino. Rob Hallawell coaches the Dons, who practice at the San Diego Yacht Club.
The Dons improved as the season progressed, with sailors learning to adapt to different roles in a sport that requires a unique blend of athleticism, dexterity, and the ability to shift strategies on the fly amid shifting conditions.
"We worked really hard in practice, especially the last couple of months we really focused on making every minute of practice count," Schluter said.
The Dons qualified for the nationals out of the April 18 to 19 Pacific Coast Championships at Mission Bay, where the top five teams advanced. There the Dons placed third.
"It was really exciting and it definitely put a good cap on the season," Schluter said. "It validated all our hard work and I think it gives us some encouragement to get ready to work hard so we can win it all next year."