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Blecher wins first U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship

by US Sailing 19 Aug 2019 04:34 PDT 16-18 August 2019
The winning crew (from left) Ali Blumenthal, Krysia Pohl, Beka Schiff and Allie Blecher complete a roll jibe during the first day of racing at the U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship © Martin Chumiecki / Element Photography

Allie Blecher (Long Beach, Calif.) won the 17th U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship with a 2-0 victory over Giselle Camet Nyenhuis (San Diego, Calif.) in Sunday's Final.

Blecher, the 2010 Quantum Collegiate Female Sailor of the Year and a member of the US Sailing Team in 2013, won the Allegra Knapp Mertz Trophy for the first time in her second attempt. She finished runner-up in last year's championship held in San Francisco. This year she won an abbreviated final that was reduced to a best-of-three from a best-of-five due to thunderstorms in the Detroit area.

"This is a good one. This is the highlight of our season. We've been working towards this one in particular," said Blecher, who works as a sustainment integration project manager for Northrup Grumman in El Segundo, Calif. Her crew included main trimmer and tactician Beka Schiff (Los Angeles, Calif.), trimmer Krysia Pohl (San Francisco, Calif.) and bowperson Ali Blumenthal (Bellport, N.Y.).

"Last year we were sort of new to match racing, it was our first time facing Nicole (Breault, three time winner)," said Blecher. "We were in a good spot against her at every start, but she had the boatspeed. We knew we were able to sail against her. This year we were coming in for the win. This one is a highlight, top of the list right now."

Camet Nyenhuis was awarded the Mrs. Charles Francis Adams Memorial Trophy for finishing runner-up. Her crew included Dana Riley Hayes (San Rafael, Calif.) and Molly Vandermoer (Stanford, Calif.).

Blecher and Camet Nyenhuis advanced to the final of the US Sailing National championship by winning their semifinal matches. Blecher defeated Marilyn Cassedy (Lawndale, Calif.), 3-0, while Camet Nyenhuis defeated Janel Zarkowsky (Annapolis, Md.), 3-2, in a much tighter match.

Camet Nyenhuis, who previously won the Allegra Knapp Mertz Trophy in 1989 and '96 when it was awarded to the U.S. Women's Singlehanded Champion, won the first semifinal race on Saturday afternoon, then lost the next two races this morning to fall behind 2-1. But she would rally to win the next two races in a building breeze to advance to the final.

"She (Janel) won two to go up by one, but we just kept fighting," said Camet Nyenhuis. "The first couple races we weren't making things happen, but then we got into a grove in the next two and pulled off moving into the final round against Allie."

Janel Zarkowsky (Annpolis, Md.) finished third after winning a one race sail-off against Marilyn Cassedy (Lawndale, Calif.), who finished fourth.

Liz Hjorth (Marina Del Rey, Calif.) won the consolation round to place fifth overall, followed by Stephanie Wondolleck (San Rafael, Calif.) in sixth and Bridget Grobel (Chicago, Ill.) in seventh.

After Blecher won the first race in a tight, competitive affair. She led at the first windward mark but Camet Nyenhuis passed on the first downwind leg. They swapped positions again on the second upwind leg and this time Blecher held on for the win.

"It was a great race," said Camet Nyenhuis.

Just as Race 2 was starting a squall moved through the racing area with 30-knot puffs. Both Blecher and Camet Nyenhuis described a "big black cloud" crossing the racecourse and it ripped the jib cars off their tracks on Blecher's boat and sent Camet Nyenhuis into a capsize.

"We were on our side with our mast in the water and our keel out of the water. It was pretty interesting," said Camet Nyenhuis. The umpires rightly abandoned the race and sent everyone shoreside.

The storm abated within about 30 minutes and the crews returned to the water to resume the final. In a light and puffy breeze around 8 to 10 knots, Blecher won the start leading to the line which gave her control of the race that she would win to seal the championship.

"Our goal was to make sure we were leading to the line. We didn't want to be in a pushing position," Blecher said. "After that we were able to get them into a corner of the racecourse. They're a fast team so we knew we needed a bit of distance between us."

Blecher said that the current was a major factor on the racecourse, as it had been all weekend. "There was a bit of a cross current. We had to make sure we weren't sailing too far in one direction or the other. We had to pay attention to the puffs and make sure we weren't overstanding when lifted because of the current," she said.

With the win Blecher is eligible to be invited to 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. 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 Overall Results:

1. Skipper: Allie Blecher (Long Beach, Calif.), Crew: Ali Blumenthal (Bellport, N.Y.), Krysia Pohl (San Francisco, Calif.), Beka Schiff (Los Angeles, Calif.)
2. Giselle Nyenhuis (San Diego, Calif.), Dana Riley Hayes (San Rafael, Calif.), Molly Vandermoer (Stanford, Calif.)
3. Janel Zarkowsky (Annapolis, Md.), Rose Edwards (New York, N.Y.), Isabelle Ruiz de Luzuriaga (Philadelphia, Pa.), Sara Swanson (Cambridge, Mass.)
4. Marilyn Cassedy (Lawndale, Calif.), Alexa Cavalieri (Redondo Beach, Calif.), Nicole Sikowitz (Essex, Md.), Kaitlyn Von Nostrand (Seattle, Wash.)
5. Liz Hjorth (Marina Del Rey, Calif.), Stine Cacavas (Los Angeles, Calif.), Karyn Jones (Pacific Palisades, Calif.)
6. Stephanie Wondolleck (San Rafael, Calif.), Melinda Erkelens (Richmond, Calif.), Sandra Svoboda (Grosse Pointe, Mich.)
7. Bridget Grobel (Chicago, Ill.), Morgan Collins (Norfolk, Va.), Abigail Rohman (New York, N.Y.), Hope Wilson (New York, N.Y.)

For more information from the 2019 U.S. Women's Match Racing Championship, please visit the event website.

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