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‘We’re back on top’: Navy intercollegiate sailing captures second national championship in a week

Skipper J.C. Hermus (rear of boat) and crew Kimmie Leonard (foreground) finished second in A Division at the ICSA Gill Co-Ed Dinghy National Championship.
Skipper J.C. Hermus (rear of boat) and crew Kimmie Leonard (foreground) finished second in A Division at the ICSA Gill Co-Ed Dinghy National Championship. (Allison Chenard)

Members of the Navy intercollegiate sailing team rightfully spent a few days celebrating after capturing the Team Race National Championship that was contested off Annapolis on June 2-3. After all, it was the first time since 1992 that Navy earned the Walter Cromwell Wood Bowl.

However, head coach Ian Burman made sure the Midshipmen understood there was still unfinished business.

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“After we won Team Race Nationals, we had a couple days to enjoy it then had to regroup and refocus. We knew we needed to turn it back on and win one more,” junior Kimmie Leonard said.

Leonard teamed with skipper J.C. Hermus to place second in A Division as Navy also claimed the Gill Co-Ed Dinghy National Championship, held off Annapolis Monday and Tuesday. Skipper Connor Bayless and crew Fiona Lobon took third in B Division as the Mids totaled 210 points — 26 better than runner-up Stanford.

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Navy had not won the Co-Ed fleet racing discipline since 1995 and, combined with the team race title, provides clear evidence the program is enjoying a resurgence.

“Our two national championships this spring are a huge accomplishment for the team and are indicative of the hard work and dedication that all our team members, past and present have put into making us a top-flight college sailing program,” Burman said. “It means we’re back on top. It shows we’ve been on the right track and all the work our coaches and players have put in was well guided and leading us in the right direction.”

Leonard, an Annapolis High graduate, admitted the Mids are still basking in the glow of their sweeping success this spring. It marked only the second time in program history that Navy won both team race and co-ed nationals.

“I feel like we’re all still riding this high. I think J.C. still has not wiped the smile off his face,” she said. “This is just so huge. We were all asking Ian if we can we replace the television in Robert Crown with a national championship banner. We’re all just still so amazed.”

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Skipper Gray Benson along with crew Sean Linden and Jonah Hatt were alternates for Navy at co-ed nationals. However, Burman said it took more than just seven sailors to bring home the Henry A. Morss Memorial Trophy for the first time in 26 years.

“It’s not just those that sailed in nationals, it’s every member of the team that pushes them in practice to help them hone their skills and perfect their boat speed,” the 13th-year coach said. “It’s a group of 24 midshipmen that push each other all the time.”

Hermus, Leonard and Benson are part of a talented junior class that also includes Olivia de Olazarra and Sally Johnson, who teamed to finish second in A Division at the ICSA Women’s National Championship.

Most of those sailors knew each other from the junior and high school sailing circuits and Leonard remembers thinking: “Wow, we’re going to have a really good team!”

Burman believes the current juniors make up one of the finest recruiting classes Navy sailing has landed in a long time.

Navy came out strong at Co-Ed Dinghy Nationals, building a 30-point lead following the first rotation of six races, which were held in south-southeasterly winds of 8 to 12 knots. Following the lunch break, the Midshipmen came out in the afternoon and repeated that performance during the second rotation.

Still holding a comfortable 30-point lead with six races remaining, Navy was able to sail conservatively on Tuesday morning.

“What we did early on set the stage and allowed us to build a lead that we just kind of held on to,” Burman said. “We didn’t have to take any chances the rest of the way. Really, the outcome was never much in doubt.”

Hermus and Leonard totaled 88 points in A Division, six astern of the victorious Jacksonville duo of Alfonso Garcia Bringas and Logan Brickhouse. Berman is confident the Navy tandem would have won if allowed by the coaching staff to race more aggressively.

Lobon and Bayless, a senior out of Severn School, had to work hard to place third in B Division with 122 points. Stanford’s Michelle Lahrkamp and Sammy Pickell were the winners with 92 points with Navy finishing six points behind Georgetown.

“It didn’t come easy for Connor and Fiona. They didn’t catch too many breaks,” said Burman, noting the pair were flagged for kinetics and got caught on the wrong side of some shifts. “I was proud of their resilience and how they ground out a podium placement in their division.”

Tulane was scheduled to host the three national championships on Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. However, travel concerns led the ICSA to move the 2021 regattas to Annapolis with Severn Sailing Association, Eastport Yacht Club and Annapolis Sailing School assisting.

“Being familiar with the conditions and equipment certainly was a benefit,” Burman acknowledged. “One of the things that made this so special was having so many of our players there helping out with logistics and running the regatta. It made it seem like a true team win.”

Leonard, whose father is a 1992 Naval Academy graduate, credited Bayless, Linden and fellow senior Madeline Pruzan with setting a standard and establishing a work ethic for the rest of the team to follow.

While losing those three will hurt, Navy returns six starters from the Team Race and Co-Ed Dinghy teams. Benson will probably stepped into B Division skipper role, while the Midshipmen have several talented younger sailors that will push to get into the lineup.

“Our team certainly will be strong again next year. The hope is to remain a top contender,” Burman said. “If our program stays at a high level and we maintain the amount of institutional knowledge we’ve developed, our odds should be pretty good going forward.”

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