During the final eight weeks of the spring semester, CisternYard Sports will be releasing a feature story each week on a student athlete at the College of Charleston that our sports staff thinks you should know. This week, we highlight junior crew Ali Blumenthal of the sailing team.
With a beautiful location, a fleet of over 50 boats, and a history of excellence, the College of Charleston has become a hot destination for talented sailors across the country throughout the past decade.
That history of excellence includes 11 national championships in all six Intercollegiate Sailing Association divisions since 2006.
Currently, one of Charleston’s top sailors is junior crew and team captain, Ali Blumenthal, who played an integral role in the Cougars’ 2013 National Championship.
“We went into [the National Championship] feeling good about it. We had a really strong season and some really good sailors. When we went into it, we just knew we had to stay calm and remember that we all knew how to sail fast,” Blumenthal said. “Once we realized we had such a big lead [in the event], it was just connecting the dots and staying focused. I think winning that nationals is my fondest memory in college sailing so far.”
Hailing from Bellport, N.Y., Blumenthal began sailing at the age of five at the Bellport Bay Yacht Club on Long Island. Sailing, however, was never intended to be a competitive avenue for her.
“My parents put me in sailing more to get a life skill. My mom always thought it was a really good thing for a woman to be able to go out in a boat by herself. They never expected me to take it to the level I have,” she said.
In fifth grade, Blumenthal realized that sailing was her passion and the sport was something she wanted to pursue competitively.
“After I realized my goals, the yacht club in Bellport did not have the coaching that I was looking for so I went to LIOST, which was a high-quality racing team on Long Island. They had coaches that were brought in from around the country. From there, I got connected with people who had the same goals that I did,” she said.
Blumenthal began sailing in major events both nationally and internationally with girls she had met through her new team.
She competed in two International 420 Class World Championships in Israel and Italy, two European Championships in Portugal and France, and the International Lightning Class Youth World Championship in Finland.
Somewhat surprisingly, sailing was originally not a top priority for Blumenthal during her college application process.
“In high school, I was thinking I might want to go to an all art school. I applied to places in New York City and the Rhode Island School of Design, but then I realized I didn’t know if I could survive doing just art. I love art and it is something I am going to continue doing for the rest of my life, but I realized I wanted sail in college,” she said.
Luckily, Blumenthal stumbled upon the College thanks to her mom.
“Charleston was not a school that was really on my radar. We were traveling home from Florida after a regatta and we were driving through Charleston. My mom wanted to stop to see what it was like and I fell in love with it the second I got here. The combination of the strong art program plus the sailing was the reason I came here,” she said.
Blumenthal entered the College as one of the top crews in the class of 2015. With her experience prior to college, she was almost immediately placed in the boat with some of the top skippers on the team. Although she does not steer the boat, her job as a crew is extremely important to the team’s success.
“As a crew, my primary job is weight placement. A lot of sailing is about weight placement and body movements in the boat, so that’s the physical aspect of my job, and then there is a complete mental side. I need to know tactics and strategies for getting around the course. I think the biggest job as a crew is the communication with your skipper. You are basically painting the picture for your skipper because as they are sailing the boat fast, you are telling them everything that is happening on the course,” she said.
After the Cougars’ National Championship run last spring, Blumenthal was honored as an All-American crew for the 2012-2013 school year, something that had always been her goal of hers since her first day at Charleston.
“Coming into college sailing, I knew becoming an All-American was my ultimate goal. Being named one after last year, it is still my goal. My ultimate, ultimate goal is to be a three-time All-American. Coaches have to nominate you for that award and seeing that my coaches thought I deserved it just really meant a lot to me,” she said.
While she will surely be nominated for her second All-American award this year, her team’s season is far from finished. While most other students will head home after final exams, Blumenthal will remain in Charleston to practice for June’s National Championship, where she believes the Cougars have a good chance to repeat.
“Because we had a really good team last year, some people were hesitant to pick us again this year. We had so many good seniors last year, one of which was the college sailor of the year, but we have a really strong team again this year. Much of our team is sophomores, which is awesome for our program because they are going to go on and be great for the next few years. We have a month of training ahead, but we are glad we are down in Charleston where it is actually warm, unlike the schools that are practicing in freezing cold weather,” she said.
With another year at the College, Blumenthal is looking forward to working towards more national championships during her senior season. But looking back on her time with the Charleston sailing program, she says that she could not have asked for a better experience.
“My favorite thing about sailing here is that coming into school, I already had 40 new best friends. I can really say that I feel close with every one of them,” she said. “Also, there’s nothing bad about sailing in Charleston. Being able to sail and see dolphins everyday, that’s pretty sweet.”
Check back next Friday for the eighth and final edition in our “Eight for Eight” series on baseball shortstop, Gunnar Heidt.