Sailing: Sailors peaking at right time

There's a young vibe on the Newport Harbor High sailing team. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Newport Harbor is in rebuilding mode.

There's a high standard for the program. After all, they are the Sailors.

"We have to be good," Newport Harbor Coach Payson Infelise said of having the nickname the Sailors. "Because otherwise, who are we?"

These Sailors possess one of the top high school sailing programs in the nation. They have finished within the top six in the nation the past four years, Infelise said. Last year was their lowest finish at sixth. Four years ago they won the national championship, the coveted Mallory Trophy.

This year, the young Newport Harbor team, which has 14 freshmen and graduated eight seniors last spring, wants to get back to the top. The Sailors begin their quest Saturday at the Pacific Coast Championships at Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club in San Pedro.

The top 20 teams in the Pacific Coast Interscholastic Sailing Assn. will be there vying to finish in the top five and advance to the high school national championships in Chicago May 11-12 to compete for the Mallory.

The regattas consist of several races, two-person boats competing to pile up points to determine the winner.

The Sailors believe they can win it all off the strength from their most recent competition, the Gaucho Regatta, where they won in Santa Barbara last month.

"We've been on the upswing all year long," Infelise said. "We have improved since the first regatta when we finished low [at seventh at the Sea Otter Regatta]. We won our last regatta and hopefully we can keep it going and win the PCCs and go on to win the nationals."

Newport Harbor wants to continue peaking. The Sailors know they have prime competition close by with their rivals, Corona del Mar, also sailing at the PCCs.

Newport Harbor and CdM are tied in points, third in the PCISA. Both programs are known to be elite and produce top sailors that go on to the nation's best college programs.

Newport Harbor senior Carolyn Smith balanced a high school life of water polo and sailing. She's totally focused on sailing now. It's her first love. She'll be competing for the St. Mary's College of Maryland program next year.

Smith, just as many of the sailors in the Newport Harbor program, began sailing at a young age. She started at 5.

With water polo and sailing, it's safe to say she loves the water. She also loves being on the Newport Harbor team, as one of the senior leaders on the squad.

She's well aware of the high standard and the continual talk of winning a national title, but that doesn't appear to faze her.

"I don't feel that much pressure," said Smith, a skipper. "I just go out and have fun."

Senior Daniel Segerblom is another natural leader of the team. His younger brother, Sean, is also on the team. Their older brother, Chris, was on that Newport Harbor national championship team and is now the captain of the team at Yale.

Daniel is confident Newport Harbor can move on to Chicago after this weekend.

"We have a really good chance for qualifying for nationals," he said. "This team has done a great job all year."

Daniel and Smith both said they enjoy the camaraderie on the team. It's a lot of fun when they get to know each other during the trips to the regattas, Daniel said.

"It's really fun," Smith said. "We're one big family. We have 14 freshmen so we are kind of like the older kids. But it's so much fun. Honestly there isn't a dull moment on this team."

Part of the fun is winning. The Sailors definitely had fun when they won in Santa Barbara. So naturally they want more.

There is great competition at the PCCS, with Point Loma at No. 1, but Newport Harbor remains confident.

"I know that if we sail our best the regatta shouldn't be too difficult," said Bayley Davidson, a senior crew.

Infelise has put the Sailors on a steady practice schedule. The sailors also have endurance workouts, usually led by assistant coach Cameron MacLaren, 25, who graduated from Newport Harbor in 2005. He didn't sail for the program while in high school, but he maintained a passion for sailing while competing in tennis and cross country at Newport Harbor.

Now he enjoys being back with sailing and back with his former school.

The training, along with some breaks, have helped shape the program, Infelise said.

Infelise, in his fourth year as head coach (he was a Newport Harbor assistant before), knows what it takes to become the best sailing team.

"We're a fairly big team but we run everything as a team together," Infelise said. "There's not one kid singled out who does anything different than the others.

"We certainly try to keep that team aspect even though there are 30 kids on the team. The key to being a good sailing team, you have to be well rounded. You have to be good at all the parts, whether it's boat handling, whether it's tactics, whether it's starting, you have to have all the parts and put it all together at the right time."

Newport Harbor hopes to put it all together this weekend and then again next month in Chicago.

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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