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Girls enjoy chance to compete against best

An unlikely group of girls from Tampa Bay races against some of the world's top women.

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 30, 2001

This is a team of women -- young women -- who still giggle, tease their crewmates, snitch food off each others' plates and start water fights when the opportunity presents itself. But their spirited antics belie the talent and commitment they carried into the 2001 Osprey Cup -- an international sailing competition for women match racers, which began Thursday on Tampa Bay.

The six girls range in age from 12 to 17. Their unofficial team "mom" is Abby Ethington, the senior member who attends St. Petersburg Catholic High School and the only one with any big-boat experience (last year she won a national championship in the Windmill Class with area sailmaker Ethan Bixby).

The rest of the team consists of Evan Brown (15, Berkeley Prep), who likely will be driving the boat much of the time, Betsy Bryant (15, Berkeley Prep), Kristin Britt (14, St. Petersburg High), Alyson Dagly (15, St. Petersburg High) and Rachael Silverstein (12, Admiral Farragut Academy). Brown and Bryant recently teamed to win the Great Oaks Invitational Regatta, a national championship for high school sailing teams.

O'Malley Avant and Morten Christoffersen have been coaching the team. The team found out Nov. 5 it was invited to the Osprey Cup. "They started practicing Nov. 6," Avant said.

Avant, who is the coach of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club junior program, had been talking with Christoffersen, sailing master of the St. Petersburg Sailing Center, about having a team in the event as a way to step up the girls' experience. When one of the international teams dropped out, the door opened for the youths.

"Pat Seidenspinner liked the idea so much she made it happen," Avant said of the Osprey Cup race official and the past commodore of the host St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

"The hardest part was going to be to pick the four girls to sail. No one had put in more effort than anyone else. Their level of dedication and commitment is unbelievable. But the yacht club has generously allowed us to substitute during the event so everyone can sail."

That commitment started each day after school as the six teammates gathered at the sailing center for coaching, on-the-water drills and fitness training. Weekends were also dedicated to sailing.

"We come early," Silverstein said. "Sometimes we have running, push-ups, sit-ups."

"They're athletes," Avant added.

During a practice session against another boat earlier in the week, Avant ran out of patience with some crew squabbling. With the blast of his whistle he instructed Brown to stop the boat and hollered: "Drop and give me 15 (push-ups)." Without a word, they accepted their coach's reprimand.

"Now maybe they'll be mad at me instead of each other," Avant said.

He followed the tough training session with lunch. All of the tension was left on the boat.

"The hardest part is disagreeing with teammates," Dagly said. "But this has done so much for our confidence and teamwork, learning how to work with other people."

The sailors acknowledge their goals must be realistic, given their lack of experience.

"I'd be happy if we beat one boat," Ethington said.

"Competitiveness is not something they lack," Avant said. "But I don't think there will be a group of girls out there this weekend that will have more fun."

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