At last year’s Women’s National Singlehanded Championship in Corpus Christi, Tex., Claire Dennis ’13 finished second, six points short of defending champion Anne Haeger from Boston College. At this year’s competition in St. Petersburg, Fla., Haeger returned looking for a third consecutive championship, but Dennis had something else in mind.
Dennis captured the Women’s National Singlehanded Championship by one point over Haeger at the University of South Florida this past weekend. Her teammate, Emily Billing ’13, placed fourth in the event, while Cameron Cullman ’13 competed in the Men’s National Singlehanded Championship, where he grabbed third.
Going into the three-day competition, Dennis knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.
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“I didn’t really go into the event with any result expectations. I just wanted to minimize mistakes,” Dennis said. “I knew [Haeger] was really going to be one of the main players.”
For Dennis, the first race of the competition did not go according to plan. A bad start coupled with very shifty conditions relegated Dennis to ninth place. But she rebounded quickly by rolling off eight straight race wins over the course of Friday and Saturday’s racing.
“I’ve actually never done that before,” Dennis said of the eight consecutive victories. “After the first race, the breeze shifted direction and it got a lot windier which was definitely my strength. I was able to get in front early.”
The wins gave her an early lead, and at the end of Saturday’s racing, Dennis sat in first place with a nine-point lead. But she understood that it was far from over.
“I knew that Annie was going to be challenging,” Dennis said. “I wasn’t taking anything for granted. I just tried to stay levelheaded.”
Dennis started the day off with a win, her 10th and final of the regatta; however, she was pushed deep into the fleet in the penultimate race and finished 11th. Dennis knew that she needed a top-four finish in the last race to guarantee herself the championship. For Haeger, it was important to beat Dennis by four positions in order to make up the point differential.
“What Annie needed to do was put boats between herself and me,” Dennis said.
Initially, Haeger was successful in forcing Dennis and herself away from the rest of the fleet. However, Dennis used the race committee boat as a pick and found a gap back towards the rest of the boats. When it came time to race back through the fleet, Dennis was able to pass enough boats to finish fourth.
The result gave her 50 points and a one-point edge over Haeger at the end of the regatta.
She is the first Yale woman to bring home the Janet Lutz Trophy since Molly Carapiet ’06 took it during her senior year.
Billing also had a great weekend of her own. She started the regatta off with a seventh-place finish, but that would be her lowest of the competition. From that point on, Billing put together five top-threes, including one race win. Going into the last race, she had a one-point advantage over Hobart & William Smith Colleges’ Ariel DeLisser for third place, but a third-place race finish coupled with DeLisser’s win pushed Billing back to fourth.
“I was hoping to end up passing her,” Billing said of the final race. “I was kind of bummed that I just missed it by one point.”
Nearby, at the Men’s National Singlehanded Championship, Cameron Cullman ’13 met some bad luck in his first race of the day.
“Going around the last corner mark, I was in fourth,” Cullman said. “Then the breeze just shut off completely so nobody was moving anywhere. Nine or ten boats passed me. It’s one of those things in sailing that you can’t control.”
However, Cullman bounced back by garnering six-top threes over the next two days. Heading into Sunday, the last day of the three-day competition, Cullman sat in third but had two sailors within five points below him.
“The goal on the last day was just to try and clinch third,” Cullman said. “I really just kept tabs on those two boats.”
Despite the increased attention, Cullman allowed one of his two competitors to gain ground. With one race to go, he and South Florida’s Zachary Marks were tied for third. During the last race, Cullman initially fell behind Marks. However, Cullman started making his way through the fleet.
“I eventually caught up to him. He made a small tactical mistake,” Cullman said. “Once I got the chance, I wasn’t going to let him get past me.”
Cullman took advantage and won the final race to finish in third place overall with 84 points.
“I think it was just a really great weekend,” Dennis said. “Our whole team did really, really well. We obviously have a very strong Laser team at Yale.”
Next weekend, Dennis will return to St. Petersburg as a member of the women’s team to compete in the Women’s Atlantic Coast Championships. The coed team will make the short trip to the U.S. Naval Academy for the Coed Atlantic Coast Championships.