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USF varsity sailors hitch spot in Top 20

The women's sailing team at USF St. Petersburg is its first varsity squad.

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 28, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Okay, it is not one of those sports involving cheerleaders and a ball of some sort. It will never fill a stadium. But a varsity team now has headquarters on the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida.

The women's sailing team is the first varsity team on the downtown campus. And though it is only about 2 years old, it was recently ranked among the Top 20 in the United States.

"We were thrilled," said team coach Stephanie Doyle of the ranking by Sailing World magazine, which put them 19th in a list of about 100 teams. Doyle said that placed them "with the top sailing teams like Harvard, Old Dominion, Tufts, Connecticut College, the Naval Academy."

Creating a women's varsity team rather than one for male students, in a sport long-considered the purview of wealthy men, was a practical decision, Doyle said.

"USF St. Petersburg has had a co-ed "club' sailing team for years. The women's team branched out in the spring of 2000 because when football started, under Title IX, the school needed more women's varsity sports to equal men's. Initially there was some resentment, but we try really hard to keep things equal. I coach the guys, too, and they get to travel to more places."

"I don't care as long as I get to sail," said team member Nick Chachula, 20, a junior.

The women's varsity sailing team and the men's club team, totaling 25 members, is one more indicator that the local campus is evolving from a center mostly for graduate studies and only limited undergraduate courses into a full-fledged undergraduate institution. It is already a draw for undergraduates -- male and female -- interested in sailing.

"I'm from Rhode Island, but I never sailed," said Andi Paolella, 19, a sophomore. "It's the reason I came to the St. Pete campus," said Matt Hickman, a 20-year-old sophomore from Melbourne.

The young men and women sail together several times a week and go to regattas at other schools throughout the year. In November, for the first time, the varsity team joins the St. Petersburg Yacht Club in co-hosting a collegiate regatta.

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