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2019 U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship heads to Bayview Yacht Club

by US Sailing 15 Aug 18:06 PDT 16-18 August 2019
Competitors at the 2019 U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship hope that the racing will be as close as last year on San Franciscso Bay © Amanda Witherell

For skippers such as Allie Blecher (Long Beach, Calif.) and Janel Zarkowsky (Annapolis, Md.), the absence of the three-time reigning U.S. Women's Match Racing Champion just means a wide-open regatta for the seven crews competing this week for the Allegra Mertz Trophy.

The U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship, a US Sailing National Championship hosted by the Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit, Mich., is scheduled this week for three days of racing on Friday, August 16, through Sunday, August 18. Blecher placed second last year to Nicole Breault, who is unable to compete due to racing at the Women's Match Racing World Championship last week, and Zarkowsky placed third, following on consecutive runner-up finishes in 2015 and '16.

Three other skippers from last year, Marilyn Cassedy (Lawndale, Calif.), Liz Hjorth (Marina Del Rey, Calif.) and Stephanie Wondolleck (San Rafael, Calif.), look to improve on their fourth, sixth and seventh overall placings, respectively. First-time entrants Bridget Grobel (Chicago, Ill.) and Giselle Camet Nyenhuis (San Diego, Calif.) round out the field.

Blecher and Zarkowsky are among the most experienced skippers in the fleet and figure to be racing late into the regatta. Last year Blecher beat Zarkowsky 3-2 in the semifinals in a hard-fought match that came down to the last run. Zarkowsky had earned a penalty in the fifth and deciding race but had stretched out a lead on the run to the finish where she planned to do her penalty turn at the finish line.

"I retained a penalty from the pre-start but had her in a good spot on the run," Zarkowsky said. "I misjudged the current in San Francisco Bay. I thought I had sent her far enough downwind to complete my penalty turn, but the current brought us back up to the finish and she was able to get past. Allie's a great competitor, I like sailing against her."

"She tried a textbook move but didn't quite get it done and we were able to squeeze across the finish," said Blecher, who sailed with Breault last week at the Women's Match Racing World Championship in Sweden. This week she'll be racing with Beka Schiff (Los Angeles, Calif.), Allie Blumenthal (Bellport, N.Y.), who also sailed in Sweden last week, and Krysia Pohl, a newcomer to her Team Bam.

"I'm feeling very prepared and remaining calm at same time," said Blecher. "Sailing internationally is so different from sailing in the States. Last week we got to race the World champs (skipper Lucy Macgregor and crew) and it's great to see the way they sail the boat; the way they do the pre-start, when to attack and when to extend. Watching them drives home the old point that less is more."

A match racing clinic hosted by Liz Baylis, a member of the US Sailing Match Racing Committee and the 2003 and 2007 U.S. Women's Match Racing Champion, is scheduled for Thursday. The competition will be held in the Ultimate 20, or U20, a lightweight, 20-foot long monohull with the performance of a multihull.

"It's a really fun boat," said Zarkowsky after a weekend of practice. "It's got a wide-open cockpit, so you don't feel congested with four on the boat. All the sail controls are laid out simply and are easy to grasp. It's really light, it loves being rolled and flattened aggressively, and that's fun to do from a boathandling point of view."

Zarkowsky, the coach of the Georgetown University Sailing Team and a director of Basic Sail Training at the U.S. Naval Academy Sailing Program, has been a regular competitor at the U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship for the better part of the past decade. Before becoming a skipper, she did bow and tactics for Stephanie Roble, who won the Allegra Mertz Trophy in 2014.

Zarkowsky moved to the helm in 2015 and this year she'll be racing with a crew largely experienced in collegiate sailing including Rose Edwards (New York, N.Y.), Isabelle Ruiz de Luzuriaga (Philadelphia, Pa.) and Sara Swanson (Cambridge, Ma.). In fact, Edwards and de Luzuriaga are both graduates of Georgetown and were coached by Zarkowsky.

"It's a good crew. I've sailed with Rose and Isabelle before and Sara is new to the party," said Zarkowsky. "They're all college sailing grads who've been immersed in team racing and a bit of match racing. They're young and enthusiastic with finesse and power. They're excited to implement their college experience with this particular keelboat."

The top placing eligible skipper will be invited to race at the 2019 U.S. Match Racing Championship hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club on October 3-6, 2019.

The U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship grew out of the U.S. Women's Open Championship regatta that was founded in 1974 for fleet racing in doublehanded and singlehanded divisions. A boardsailing championship was added in 1981. In 2000, a motion to change the event from fleet racing to match racing was passed and the first U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship was held at Southern Yacht Club (New Orleans, La.) in November 2002.

The Allegra Knapp Mertz Trophy is presented to the winner in honor of Allegra Knapp Mertz, a four-time winner of the U.S. Women's National Championship and many years of service as Chairperson of the Women's Championship Committee. (Camet Nyenhuis previously won the Mertz trophy in 1989 and '96 when it was awarded to the singlehanded champion.) The Adams Memorial Trophy is presented to the runner-up in honor of Mrs. Henry (Adams) Morgan.

17th U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship Entrant List:
Aug. 15-18, 2019
Bayview Yacht Club (Detroit, Mich.)
7 Teams

  • Skipper: Allie Blecher (Long Beach, Calif.), Crew: Allie Blumenthal (Bellport, N.Y.), Krysia Pole, Beka Schiff (Los Angeles, Calif.)
  • Marilyn Cassedy (Lawndale, Calif.), Alexa Cavalieri (Redondo Beach, Calif.), Nicole Sikowitz (Essex, Md.), Kaitlyn Von Nostrand (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Bridget Grobel (Chicago, Ill.), Morgan Collins (Norfolk, Va.), Abigail Rohman (New York, N.Y.), Hope Wilson (New York, N.Y.)
  • Liz Hjorth (Marina Del Rey, Calif.), Stine Cacavas (Los Angeles, Calif.), Karyn Jones (Pacific Palisades, Calif.)
  • Giselle Nyenhuis (San Diego, Calif.), Dana Riley Hayes (San Rafael, Calif.), Molly Vandermoer (Stanford, Calif.)
  • Stephanie Wondolleck (San Rafael, Calif.), Melinda Erkelens (Richmond, Calif.), Sandra Svoboda (Grosse Pointe, Mich.)
  • Janel Zarkowsky (Annapolis, Md.), Rose Edwards (New York, N.Y.), Isabelle Ruiz de Luzuriaga (Philadelphia, Pa.), Sara Swanson (Cambridge, Mass.)
For results, standings and more information from the 2019 U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship, please visit the event website.

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