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UC Irvine Notebook : Sailing Team Tries to Navigate Way to Another National Title

Standing beside the dock, wearing a faded T-shirt, surf trunks and dark, wraparound sunglasses, UC Irvine sailing Coach Craig Wilson grimaced when asked whether he thought his program--ranked No. 1 in the nation--received the respect it deserved.

“See that guy out there,” Wilson said, pointing to a man leisurely putt-putting his 30-foot cabin cruiser through Newport Harbor. “That’s what people think collegiate sailing is.”

For the record, Wilson says collegiate sailing is:

--The purest form of competitive sailing in the world.

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--The basic foundation for world-class sailing skills and instincts.

--As equally taxing physically and mentally as any collegiate sport.

Said Wilson: “People see the America’s Cup, wealthy guys in blue blazers raising tons of money. That’s what they think we do. These guys work as hard or harder than the basketball team, but people have no idea.”

First, a bit of history.

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According to Chris Hufstader, associate editor of Sailing World magazine, which ranks the top 20 college teams, collegiate sailing started on the East Coast in 1936, with Ivy League schools, such as Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth, as its major powers.

Although races originally were off shore in larger sloops, dingy sailing--today’s most popular form in the collegiate ranks--became the standard in the late 1930s. By the early 1960s, the sport had gone coast to coast, and included Stanford, California, UCLA and USC.

Today, more than 200 colleges and universities--including landlocked Notre Dame, Texas, Texas A&M;, Kansas State and Iowa--compete under rules of the Intercollegiate Yacht Racing Assn., based at Newport, R.I. There are no scholarships given in sailing, so recruitment is based on prestige of the program as well as a school’s academic reputation and its location, according to coaches.

Irvine, which started its program in 1968, won its first national championship in 1972. Last June, led by Jon Pinckney, the Anteaters won their second, at the IYRA dingy championships in San Francisco.

This season, with the return of Pinckney and an increase in depth and overall talent, Irvine is ranked as the country’s top team.

“Our motto this year is, ‘We Will Deny, U-C-I,’ ” said Dr. George Wood, coach of fourth-ranked College of Charleston at Charleston, S.C. “They are so deep in talent. A good collegiate sailing team needs two good skippers. They have six.”

Along with depth, Irvine also has proven to be a very versatile team, able to handle different boats and various conditions. (Most college teams travel to regattas without their own boats and use the boats at the host facility.)

At the national championships last June in San Francisco, Irvine won in calmer waters, lighter winds and using Flying Juniors, the quicker, more maneuverable class of boats that the Anteaters favor.

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But then two weeks ago at the prestigious Trux-Olmstead regatta at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., Irvine won the 20-team race despite rougher conditions and having to sail 420s, a wider, more stable boat.

“By winning both in different conditions and different boats, Irvine proved a lot,” said Sailing World’s Hufstader. “Versatility is key in collegiate sailing, and Irvine is very versatile.”

Along with Pinckney, Irvine’s top sailors include junior James Malm and senior Mike Sturman.

Malm, a native of Rocky River, Ohio, grew up in a sailing family. His parents’ home overlooks Lake Erie, where Malm got his start, sailing Sabots at the age of 6. After spending three of his four high school years at a private boys’ academy in Marion, Mass., Malm went to Old Dominion University, a perennial sailing power, and currently ranked No. 2 in the nation.

But after two years, Malm, aching for warmer weather, transferred to Irvine.

Sturman, from Canoga Park, spent much of his childhood sailing in juniors competition for the Marina del Rey Yacht Club. Four years ago, after graduating from Canoga Park High School, he enrolled as a freshman at Cal State Northridge, a non-sailing school. Wilson heard that Sturman, whom he had met through junior sailing competitions, was out of sailing so he invited him to Irvine.

“It didn’t take much persuasion,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson, Malm and Sturman are as different, philosophically speaking, as port and starboard.

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“Jamie’s strength comes from a very, very creative mind,” Wilson said. “College sailing is a very cerebral thing. Jamie is really creative; he’s always thinking. It doesn’t really matter what it is he’s doing, you’ll notice his head’s kind of going all the time. That’s a commonality among great sailors.

“Mike’s a little more of a student of the game, and very disciplined. He knows the textbook of the game inside and out. He’s got such a strong, strong knowledge of the sport and really relies on that.

“The two of them have gotten to the point where they can execute the basic moves perfectly.”

Perfection is a popular word in Wilson’s vocabulary, especially when he’s talking about sailing practice and competition. The Anteaters have three-hour practices three times a week at their sailing base in Newport Harbor. Along with practicing starts and doing speed drills, Wilson said the Anteaters “do an exorbitant amount of boat-handling drills.”

“Underline that!” Malm quipped.

“I think I’m a lot different than most coaches,” said Wilson, an Irvine graduate who is working on a master’s in business administration at Irvine.

“I mean I’m a competitive person but I stress learning the sport and executing it as perfectly as possible. The competition in beating the other guy is not as big of a deal for me. I don’t have to give these guys the ‘let’s win’ speeches and all that.

“I just want them to try to achieve some sort of perfection. After that, winning takes care of itself.”

Natalie Crawford, former women’s basketball standout, is finishing her undergraduate degree while competing for the Anteater track and field team.

Crawford, a 6-foot-6 former center, has made an immediate impact for the track team. The 1984 Southern Section 1-A 400-meter champion while at Leuzinger High, Crawford gave up track when she came to Irvine on a basketball scholarship five years ago.

Now, her 57.20 second clocking in the 400 recorded last month at the Long Beach Relays has already placed her No. 5 on the school’s all-time list.

Crawford completed her basketball eligibility in the 1987-88 season but still retains eligibility in track and field through her fifth year as an undergraduate.

The Irvine men’s and women’s track and field teams travel to Tucson this weekend where they will meet Arizona, Nebraska and Colorado.

Irvine Notes

The main draw of the 10th Irvine men’s tennis tournament begins today with 16 teams playing at various sites in Orange County. Irvine, ranked fourth in the nation, is the tournament’s top-seeded team. . . . Beth McGrann, Brigid Stirling, Shama Factor and Kelli Lewis combined to set a school record in the 4 x 1,600 meter relay last month at the Long Beach Relays. The foursome won the race in 19 minutes 54.6 seconds, breaking the school mark of 20:20.3 set in 1987.


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