This year’s preseason sailing rankings of No. 1 and No. 2 for the women’s and coed sailing teams continue a long tradition of success for sailing head coach Zack Leonard ’89.
Since sailing became a varsity sport at Yale in 2002, the coed team has earned a preseason ranking within the top ten in all but one year, and the women’s team has yet to fall below the ninth spot. This sort of perennial success is not foreign to the sailing team or to Leonard.
Fifty-five All-American sailors, five national championship appearances and four current Olympians are just some of the achievements Leonard has helped the Yale sailors attain since he was asked to head Yale’s sailing coaching staff in 2002. Leonard has also shown his own prowess on the water.
“It was a lot of people working hard together to get things back where they have been,” Leonard, a four time U.S. Team Racing Champion and one time U.K. Team Racing Champion, said. Leonard added that the last time Yale sailing had found similar success was in the 1970s, when sailing remained a club sport.
Members of the Yale sailing team attribute its success to Leonard and his assistants.
“I think he is the best collegiate coach in the country,” Cam Cullman ’13, skipper and captain of the coed team, said. “We are really lucky to have him. He is very calm and knowledgeable in addition to being so technically sound.”
Cullman added that Leonard’s sturdy technical foundation has enabled him to impart invaluable skills on the sailing team. Leonard said the two components to effective racing are speed and quick decision-making. His goal has always been to teach both as quickly as possible.
Cullman came to Yale as a strong single-handed sailor. Under Leonard’s coaching, however, Cullman said he quickly developed the skills and tactics he required as a competitive double-handed sailor. He attributed the acquisition of these skills to a combination of hard work and Leonard’s style.
“He is very focused and always has a game plan,” Cullman said. “He has a great eye for seeing trends and always knows what is going to happen on the water before it happens.”
This competitive intuition that comes with Leonard’s fruitful sailing experience has helped the team with more than just technical prowess. Crew Kate Gaumond ’15 said Leonard has surrounded himself with some of the best coaching staff in the country to compliment his style.
Bill Healy, the 1995 U.S. Sailing Men’s National Champion and Stuart McNay ’05, who placed 13th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the Men’s 470 class, complete Leonard’s team of advisors.
Gaumond said that having three coaches allows the team to split into groups for practice, giving it more individual attention. Also, each coach can attend a different regatta when the team has multiple competitions in a single weekend.
In addition to a world-class coaching staff and plenty of hard work, Leonard attributes the success of the team to the variety of conditions the Bulldogs sail in on the Long Island Sound.
“We have to be creative and use the conditions we’re dealt each day, so we are adaptive to our environment,” Leonard said. “When we have a day that is really shifty off the land, we will work on decision-making and when we have a day where the wind is coming from the sea, we work on speed.”
Both teams next compete on Saturday. The women will be at Dartmouth for the Mrs. Hurst Bowl and the coed team will be at King’s Point for Nevin’s Trophy. Both the coed team and the women’s team have yet to finish out of first place this season.