After a season that ended with a fourth-place finish in the national championship and saw Charlie Buckingham (COL ’11) named college sailor of the year, Georgetown’s sailing team prepares to open its season by reloading as much as they rebuild.

The Hoyas return to the water on Saturday, with regattas against Navy in Annapolis, Md. and at Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va. Despite their dominance of mid-Atlantic rivals last season, the Hoyas will have a target on their back this weekend. The Blue and Gray were given the No. 2 overall ranking and No. 7 women’s ranking, awarded by Sailing World magazine in its first national poll.

“The No. 2 ranking is a recognition of that fact that even though we’re not as good as we were last year, we have a lot of talent, and Georgetown kids always get better through college,” Head Coach Mike Callahan said. “Everybody knows we are going to be good.”

Joining Callahan this season will be Michael Campbell (SFS ’11), who stays with the team as an assistant coach after four years as a sailor. He replaces Alana O’Reilly, who joined the coaching staff in 2006 and is now pursuing a 2012 Olympic bid.

Callahan expects to see big things from juniors Chris Barnard and Hilary Kenyon. Barnard, who attended the same California high school that produced Buckingham, has been amid the best sailors in the country since he arrived on the Hilltop. Senior Sydney Bolger, a three-time All-American on the women’s team, also figures to be an important part of the mix.

“The beauty of college sailing is that it’s the perfect coed sport in that the guys and girls compete against each other and the girls can win,” Callahan said. “Sydney will be starting out doing a lot of coed regattas, which will allow a lot of our younger girls, our sophomore girls to do a lot.”

The Blue and Gray compete primarily in the Mid-Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association, and the competition over the weekend should be fierce. Navy, host of two events on Saturday, is ranked No. 12 in the men’s poll. Old Dominion, the other host, is spotted at No. 16 for men’s and No. 12 for women’s.

“The Riley Cup [the Old Dominion regatta] is traditionally the first regatta of the year in our conference, and what we like to do is send our best freshmen to the event, just to kind of go and see what we have, and so this weekend we have four freshmen sailors going,” Callahan said. “Obviously we don’t expect them to just go out and win right away, but we just want to see some improvement. We just want to see them in action for the first time, and just see how good they are.”

The Annapolis event serves as a qualifier for the individual national championships, and Callahan has high hopes that the Blue and Gray can perform well this weekend and in the championship later in the fall.

“We won four times — three times with Andrew Campbell, one time with Charlie Buckingham — and so this year Chris Barnard, Michael Shalke and Matt Gavel are our best hope for that event, so they’ll be the three that are competing,” Callahan said. “If they finish in the top six in that event, they make it to the conference finals, and the top four in conference finals make it to the national championship.”

Regardless of how the weekend goes, the pattern of improvement the Hoyas have shown through the past several seasons makes it very likely that they will be contenders for the national title.

“In the fall season it’s a lot of hard work, practice, we were just out there in the rain today, kind of a crappy day, but you got to go out there and do that because the other teams are out there practicing just as hard, in nicer places with nicer boats,” Callahan said. “But you put the effort in now and hope that it pays off in the spring.”

level that were recruited, that sailed in high school, that will go to the Olympics and to the world university games this summer, but we also have people on our team that have never sailed before,” Callahan said.

At the conclusion of each practice, the Blue and Gray huddle together by the banks of the Potomac River and break with two words that define the philosophy of the program: “as one.” No matter one’s rank within the team, the philosophy holds that each individual contributes to the group’s success and to the constant improvement of the unit.

“The whole team is all part of the team’s success, on and off the water. Even if only the top few skippers and top members of the team are producing the results, it’s really boat one through boat 20 pushing each boat in front of them to get better and better,” Barnard said. “The ‘as one’ philosophy brings us all together. It’s a constant reminder that we are one big group and one big family.”

“To a certain point there is definitely some inter-team rivalry, but it’s healthy competition,” Bolger said. “We understand that as long as everyone is getting better, our team as a whole is going to compete against other schools at a higher level.”

Callahan has fostered a tradition in which the best sailors pass on their skills to the next generation, while inexperienced team members all find ways to contribute.

“If you had a Charlie Buckingham, who was winning races, he would come back and tell you exactly what he did, exactly how he made his boat go faster than you, and in that way he’d make everybody else a little faster, a little better,” Callahan said. “And [having] those people that have maybe never been in the boat before, when they get better and when they make the team better … you see the joy of sailing in those new kids.”

In addition to winning, teamwork and cohesion, another factor plays an important role in the culture of Hoya sailing — fun.

“The goal is always to win a national championship, and that puts a lot of pressure on you … but I want them to look at their watches at 3:15 when they’re ending class, and get excited about going to practice — excited to sail — and if we can do that and have fun at practice, then the team will [succeed],” Callahan said.

While their sport may not lend itself to large crowds of spectators packing the riverbanks, the Blue and Gray family, so to speak, provides a fine example of camaraderie and team unity translating into great success. Whether or not the student body awards this team with the accolades and praise it deserves, one thing is for certain: The Georgetown sailing team will continue to grow, excel and improve throughout the 2011-2012 campaign. And they will do it “as one.”

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