Sports launch into second, more contentious season

As the winter sports season comes to a close, four Yale teams are gearing for their second, more contentious season of the school year.

Crew, golf, sailing and tennis are kicking off their second competitive season for the academic year. For three of the four sports, the fall season does not affect the more heated spring season, but fall competitions are nevertheless instrumental to success as they allow the team to experience and size up competition.

“It’s nice we get to compete a lot … to have a breather between two seasons and not just be done right away,” sailor and former women’s captain Margot Benedict ’12.

For the sailing team, fall regattas have a direct effect the team’s prospects for the spring season.

The sailing team competes in the Atlantic Coast Championships in November, and the national championship in the spring. While the Atlantic Coast Championship in the fall “doesn’t mean much for the team,” sailor and former captain Benedict said, the results from the fall season influence an unofficial coaches’ ranking. The ranking determines the teams that have first pick in choosing springtime regattas.

While the fall season does not factor into competitive prospects for most teams, members of all four teams interviewed said the fall gives the team an opportunity to size up their competition, helps the athletes evaluate their own performance and allows them to break up training.

Six athletes from various sports interviewed said the fall season is an important time to evaluate competition.

“Most of the teams in at Nationals are in the Atlantic Coast as well, so [the fall season] is a good way to see where we stand going into the spring,” Benedict said.

The fall tournaments for the golf team do not influence springtime standings. In fact, during the three-day Ivy League Championship at the end of the spring season, the team’s main event of the year, all teams start out even with each other, so the team rankings do not influence who makes the cut.

Still, men’s captain Jeff Hatten ’12 said that the team views the fall and spring tournaments “of equal importance” when it comes to competing. The fall season allows the team to keep its play up to par all year round.

For the men’s lightweight and heavyweight crew teams, the fall season results do not influence the springtime schedule or standings in the Eastern Sprints or Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) championships. But lightweight rowing captain David Walker ’12 said it is advantageous to have two racing seasons, as the fall season allows the team to test its skills and develop a strong technical base.

“We can’t row indoors, so during the winter we focus on strength, fitness and power,” Walker said.

Heavyweight crew head coach Stephen Gladstone added that the fall season does not begin to approach the spring season in terms of competitive importance. The crucial regattas are held in the spring season, when national standings — and the Yale-Harvard rivalry — are at stake. The traditional four-mile Yale-Harvard boat race, which will take place on May 26 in New London, Conn., is the oldest intercollegiate athletic event in the United States, and the winner of the race receives the prestigious Sexton Cup. But the series of three “head,” or time trial, races in October provides a break from routine training and allows the team to have some fun competing, Gladstone said.

For some teams, competiting in two seasons does have its drawbacks.

Women’s tennis captain Steph Kent ’12 said although the extra competition helps the team build confidence and allows the freshmen to experience dual matches before going into the more competitive season, the schedule limits downtime for the players and makes them prone to overuse injuries.

For sports such as rowing, sailing and golf, however, overuse injuries are uncommon.

Heavyweight crew captain Tom Dethlefs ’12 said rowing is a physiological sport and as such, it is less jarring on the body. Back injuries occur occasionally, but most Yale rowers compete all through the summer for other teams, he added.

Hatten added that golfers also do not suffer overuse injuries, and competing when the weather is warm is “just business as usual for golfers,” he said.

Dethlefs rows for Team USA. Three other team members compete for their national teams over the summer after the IRA championships.

“As athletes, we always want to compete,” Walker said. “We train all year for only five minutes and 50 seconds at nationals, so I’m always up for more races.”

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