The winds are definitely at the backs of the Greens Farms Academy sailing team as the spring season comes to a close. The Dragons set sail for the 2021 Baker National Team Racing Championships in Ransom Everglades, Fla., this weekend.
GFA is one of 12 teams competing in the event after finishing second in qualifying two weeks ago in Newport, R.I.
A tiny school from the Northeast might be considered an underdog in a national regatta, but as co-captain Sofia Segalla said, when has being the underdog stopped the Dragons from giving it their all?
“I won’t build us up. It’s going to be tough,” Segalla said. “Many of these are sailors I have grown up competing against, and they are some of the best in the world. We are definitely the underdogs, but when has that frightened us? Now we just have to perform.”
Dragons who are headed to the Sunshine State to sail in the competition are co-captains Segalla, a senior, and junior Griffin Gigliotti; and team members Katherine McNamara, Harry Harmston, Cole Nightingale, Andrew Wagner, Andrew Audemard, and Ava Stevens.
“The main thing we get to do is go down and perform and race,” said Gigliotti. “But we also get to enjoy ourselves as a team and it brings us all together and pushes us to train harder so we get to have these amazing opportunities.”
The GFA sailing program has come a long away in the last four years.
In 2019, the team made a national splash when it qualified for the National Invitational Team Racing championships in Cleveland. The Dragons tied for sixth in that event. This time the GFA sailors will be challenged by some of the nation’s best high school sailing teams.
“To finish off my senior year at the nationals is, I feel, a fitting end to my sailing career at GFA,” said Segalla, who joined the team in 8th grade when the program had old boats, a revolving door of coaches and rarely — if ever — won a regatta.
Segalla said a big reason for the change in the program’s fortunes is out-going Athletic Director Tauni Butterfield.
“I have spent most of my life being disregarded for being a sailor,” Segalla said. “Many people don’t even consider sailing a sport and as an athlete in other sports as well, I can confirm that sailing is by far the most physically and mentally grueling sport I have ever done. Tauni understands this. Even when our team was losing every single race, Tauni has supported and believed in us. The support for everything from equipment to morale has been like no one else.”
Segalla said she remembered a regatta at Hotchkiss when Butterfield showed up on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon.
“Lo-and-behold, Tauni shows up in her bright blue jeep to watch us! She’s always there,” Segalla said. “I honestly believe that had we could never achieve what we have without Tauni. It is so rare to find an athletic director that puts her heart and soul into a little team like us, and I could not thank her enough.”
The addition of GFA’s most recent coaches — internationally renowned sailors like Edgar Diminch (2019 coach) and current head coach Santiago “Tino” Galan — have also made big differences in getting the Dragons up to speed.
Both coaches have preached the team aspect of the sport and it has shown as the Dragons prepared for their trip to Florida.
“Everybody on the team has been getting ready for this,” Gigliotti said. “The ones who are going down have been sailing together and those who aren’t going down worked so hard to get us ready for this. We aren’t able to do this without them. When we get down there, we’ll do the best we can.”
It’s been a long road, so to speak, to get to Florida, but a journey the sailors can appreciate.
“To see where the team has come – from losing to every single race, to going undefeated to all but Brunswick—who we have another chance against—is extremely fulfilling,” Segalla said.
Brunswick won the regional qualifier just ahead of GFA, so the Dragons are looking forward to getting another shot at the Bruins. The other 11 schools competing for the national title include: The Severn School of Annapolis, Md.; Christchurch School from Christchurch, Va.; Minnetonka (Minn.) High School; Grosse Point South High School of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich.; Olympia (Wash.) High School; Mater Dei High School of Newport Beach, Calif.; Corona del Mar (Calif.) High School; host Ransom Everglades High; Antilles School of the U.S. Virgin Islands; and Lake Travis High School of Austin, Texas.
Christchurch School is the defending national champ from the 2019 season.
“Many of these sailors I have grown up competing against, and they are some of the best in the world,” Segalla said. “The disadvantage we have as a team is our limited practice time. Teams such as Ransom, Antilles, and Severin practice every day, all year round, because they have perfect weather down south. Honestly, we are going in knowing that we are capable of beating some of these teams.”