The fall has come and gone for the UCSB sailing team. New faces arrived, a whole new class of sailors were broken in and shown the ropes (and the jib), but one fact remains constant: The only thing that matters is May.
“We need to get there,” senior captain Nick Gazulis said.
The “there” Gazulis referred to is the Pacific Coast Championship, a qualifier for the grand finale of collegiate sailing. The top two teams from the PCC will move on to the national stage while everyone else will spend a long offseason thinking about what might have been.
Santa Barbara is right on schedule to make it to May. With seven regattas already under its belt – including several top five finishes – both the men’s and women’s crews are looking forward to the thick of the season. From late January to April, UCSB will sail almost every weekend and in seemingly every place in the nation.
“Pacific collegiate sailing is heavy in the winter and spring. We’re going to the East Coast several times, we’re traveling all around the country. This is the part of the year where we really start sailing,” sophomore skipper Kate Conway said.
Santa Barbara will begin the second half of the season with a visit to Hawaii as one of the many West Coast teams at the Rainbow Invitational on Jan. 17-18.
Conway and the women are currently ranked 15th in the nation after some impressive early season performances. The men dropped in and out of the top 25 during the fall, but they’ve only had one major regatta thus far. That regatta, the North-South Intersectional, was a showcase for the senior heavy program. UCSB placed 4th in the highly regarded race and also added fuel to the already hot topic of who is the best in the west. This year features a close battle between Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, USC, the University of Hawaii and Stanford.
“We’ve done really well so far, but we could also be better,” Gazulis said. “A lot of the eastern teams are ranked higher because their major sailing season is in the fall [because of their weather]. Not many people have seen us, so the next few months are going to be very important for our rankings.”
These rankings will come into play should Santa Barbara not be in the top two at the PCC. With enough exposure in intersectional regattas, the sailing team could still land a bid to nationals if they’re ranked high enough – and both teams stand a good chance of doing just that.
UCSB features a mixture of young and old, with Gazulis leading a contingent of steady seniors and Conway stepping up as one of the many promising sophomores who have reinvigorated the program.
“With the recruiting our coaches have done and the underclassmen we have, we’ll be set for a long time,” Gazulis said. “As it is, we’re looking very good. I like our chances.”
The sailing team has a tough task ahead of them, but the daunting schedule of the winter and spring can be seen for what it is: a race to May. And they intend to get there.