St. Mary's College of Maryland's sailing team won yet another national championship last week -- beating out teams from big athletic powerhouses and wealthy Ivies.
The sailors from the small public campus did it in an especially challenging place: the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, where the windy, choppy conditions are completely different from the normally calm waters of the St. Mary's River.
"The good guys won," Coach Adam Werblow said after the results were announced.
It was the 10th time the team has won the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association's top title for North America, all in the past 16 years since Werblow became coach.
The coed team, known for being close-knit and relaxed despite its No. 1 ranking at the end of the season, won the team racing event.
"It was unbelievably close, really exciting," Werblow said. He said he lost a few years off his life as he watched the end, when the St. Mary's team squeaked by competitors from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, followed by Dartmouth College. The top nine teams were all close, Werblow said.
Just a year ago St. Mary's narrowly lost to Harvard University in another close championship competition.
In a second event days later last week -- the fleet race -- the St. Mary's Seahawks came in seventh. The University of Hawaii easily won, followed by Georgetown University and Hobart and William Smith.
Werblow, with support from waterfront director Mike Ironmonger, has created a sailing program at St. Mary's that is easily one of the best in the country, said Mitch Brindley, president of the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association and head coach at Old Dominion University.
"It's hard to find a better place to sail than St. Mary's," he said. "It's a beautiful location once you get over the fact it's in the middle of nowhere, an hour and a half from any airport. There's not a whole lot else to do there, but because of that . . . sailing is the premier sport there. There's a lot of support from the college and the local community."
Late last month, the Seahawks flew to San Francisco to train in the high winds on the bay just before the championships. They sailed right by the Golden Gate Bridge, Werblow said, and even got workers on the bridge to stop what they were doing and cheer on the sailors.
Then it was on to another scenic spot, Cascade Locks, Ore., in the Columbia River Gorge where the wind makes for fast, challenging sailing.
Early events were hampered by rain, but by the end of the team racing event the sun was shining.
"Today was just about as perfect as you could have," Werblow said last week, "wind at 15 knots . . . idyllic conditions."
And the team won.
"I can't describe how fun it is to be a part of this," said Melissa Deveney, a senior, before she headed to nationals. "This team has a really great dynamic. We're all really close. We have a great time traveling together."
Some teams drill so much that by the time they get to nationals they're sick of it all, she said. "But this is fun."
St. Mary's trip to the national championships will be included on College Sports Television's coverage of the races this summer, which will air at 9 p.m. July 7, 14 and 21.