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Stanford sailing seeks strong start in individual events

The team began its defense of the fleet racing title on Friday, trading shots with the Gauchos early before a streak of eight consecutive race wins by sophomore and senior skippers Will La Dow and Antoine Screve and their crews, junior Nikki Obel and senior Samantha Steele, gave the Cardinal a 16-point lead. Stanford's victories in the PCCSC Championships have qualified it for the national coed and team racing championships, which will take place in San Diego from May 29 to June 3. (KRISTEN STIPANOV/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford sailing is set to kick off its 2015-16 season with a number of familiar obstacles in front of it.

As in most years, the team faces the daunting challenge of replacing some of the best talent in the country. New names will have to step up in order to fill the shoes of skippers like Kieran Chung and Hans Henken and crews like Haley Kirk.

Also like in other years, the Cardinal will have to fight their geographic disadvantage. College sailing remains an East Coast-dominated sport, and Stanford will likely get fewer chances to race against top-tier competition than some other schools in the country.

Yet even though the Cardinal may not have magically dodged the barriers in their path, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the team’s chances of reaching its perpetual goal of bringing home an elusive national title to The Farm.

For one, Stanford is still probably the best-placed program in the country to qualify for these championship events. The team astoundingly hasn’t fallen from the top spot in the Pacific Coast Collegiate Sailing Conference since 2005, and there’s little to suggest any massive upheaval is presently in the works.

Similarly, the athletes returning to Redwood City this season appear as prepared as ever to lead the team to impressive accomplishments. Stanford coach John Vandemoer has continually brought top classes to The Farm, and many of the team’s younger members have already begun making an impact.

Much, of course, will need to happen for any big dreams to be realized. But with five seniors on the team’s roster and the major national championships – women’s fleet racing, coed fleet racing and team racing – set to take place in San Diego, this year may present a prime opportunity for the team to build upon its status as one of the top programs in the country.

The season technically started last weekend, with three boats competing at the Hatch Brown trophy on the Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts. The team came in seventh out of 18, anchored by a strong Division C performance from junior Lily Katz that landed her just two points off the lead.

The most important races kick off in a few days, however, beginning with the men’s and women’s conference singlehanded championships. These determine which boats get to represent the school at the national singlehanded championships in Virginia this November.

Sophomore Luke Muller won the men’s event as a freshman last year and will likely look to repeat his success in Long Beach this weekend. Meanwhile, sophomore Haley Fox should hope to edge her way into qualification after landing just outside the top two in 2014.

These events are not “team” events, and victory is typically more of an individual honor than a reflection on the program at large. Still, an impressive showing by Stanford’s skippers could allow the Cardinal to demonstrate their depth and set the tone for races to come.

The team has a long way to go before it can even begin thinking about its major national championship qualification campaign next April. In the meantime, however, sailing should continue to quietly impress and put itself in a good position to make headlines this spring.

Contact Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’

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