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A Passion for sailing

Megan Kehew '01 rides the wind to championship 

By Margaret LeRoux

Megan Kehew '01 is a high-energy Holy Cross student, double majoring in political science and economics and minoring in art history. Her weekdays are filled with classes, projects, papers-everything one would expect in the life of a serious young woman with the ambitious goal of a career in politics.

Most weekends, however, Megan is on the water. Sailing is her passion, and she's already made her mark in the world of competitive racing. For five glorious days in September, Megan was "Puff Baby," the youngest member of the crew who won the Rolex Women's Keelboat Championship in Newport, R.I. 

Megan's nickname refers to her responsibilities during the championship races. She was the one who sighted the wind, hoisted the spinnaker, and when the boat made a roll jibe-a fast, downwind turn-she'd grab hold of the twing line that stretched across the foredeck, hang on for dear life, and hurl herself off to the side to provide counterbalance so the boat wouldn't lose speed. 

"I'd look out and call, 'puff in 10 seconds-five, four, three, two, one, and there had better be wind by the end of my countdown," Megan laughs as she recalls the series of high pressure races that pitted her crew against some of the best women sailors in the world. 

Three hundred competitors all sailed identical 24-foot, single-design keelboats, J24s, in a series of races on Narragansett Bay and the Rhode Island Sound in mid-September. The skipper of Megan's crew was veteran sailor Pat Connerney, who has participated in six Rolex races. 

"I chose Megan as a crew member because of her youth, enthusiasm, her experience in Narragansett Bay and her ability to read the wind and current," says Connerney. 

Reading the wind to a non-sailor is the almost magical ability to predict the direction of the wind and when the sail will fill. 

"I've learned to recognize how the color of the water changes, and how the shapes of the waves change as the wind approaches," says Megan. 

When it was founded in 1985, the Rolex Championship "charted new territory for women's keelboat racing in a sailing world that associated females mainly with dinghy competition," says event chair Denise MacGillivray of Middletown, R.I. 

"The Rolex Women's has become one of the best gauges of talent in women's sailing," MacGillivray adds. "The competition roster typically reads like a who's who of women's sailing and includes Rolex Yachtswomen of the Year, Olympic medalists, and America's Cup veterans." 

Just to be included among such talented sailors was a thrill, Megan says. 

"It was a phenomenal experience, meeting the people I'd heard about and read about, not only racing with them, but actually beating them." 

Sailing has been a major focus for Megan ever since she took her first lesson at age 11. "I grew up in Newport," she explains. "You can't get away from sailing there." 

She spent part of her sophomore year in high school aboard a 58-foot yawl, sailing from Newport to the Bahamas, one of seven students who learned marine biology as well as English, math and the other academic subjects during a semester at sea. 

"It was just the seven of us plus the captain and first mate," Megan notes. "We also learned a lot about ourselves out there in the ocean." 

By the end of the voyage, Megan decided that sailing would always be a part of her life. She has spent every summer since racing competitively off Newport. 

"Newport's fleet is the most competitive fleet in the country," she says. "There are so many phenomenal sailors to learn from." 

After her first day of practice as a member of the Connerney crew for the Rolex Championship, however, Megan almost lost confidence. 

"They were all so amazing," she says. "I felt completely out of my element." 

According to Skipper Connerney, the youngest member of the crew caught on quickly. 

"On the race course Megan was steady and predictable, flawless tacking up on the bow," she says. "She made no mistakes in hairy conditions." 

Megan notes that the crew got excellent coaching from past world champion racer Brad Read. "He was out there with us day after day, helping us develop our tactics," she says. 

"On the first day of the race we were so excited," she recalls. "We were at the top of the pack and 30 seconds from the first mark when the race was called because of wind. Then, in the second race of the day we were in third place when the race was called." 

Despite the disappointment of the races being canceled and the frustration at the lack of wind, the crew was feeling pretty confident. On the second day of competition, the wind was brisk; they won both races wearing their foul weather gear. 

"They were perfect races," Megan says, "everything felt exactly right. The wind shifted with us." 

The first win was a close race, though; the crew came across the finish line not knowing for sure it had won it. A gun sounds for the first boat to finish, and it wasn't until they heard the gunshot that they realized they had come in first. 

After those wins, "I went from being happy just to compete for the experience, to praying that we'd win the championship," Megan says. 

On the second day of competition the crew ran into trouble. A block blew. This piece of equipment holds the halyard, the line that hoists the sail, "and it meant that the we had no way to keep the halyard from falling down," explains Megan.

"We found an extra part on board and rigged a temporary replacement, but it prevented us from tacking when we had our best advantage." 

Nevertheless, they still managed to finish fourth in the first race of the day and fifth in the second race. 

On the third day of the races the wind was blowing at a stiff 35 knots. Once more the crew donned full foul weather gear. 

"It was hectic and crazy out there on the water," Megan says. "We were never first around a mark, but we fought our way through the races with smart sailing. We did everything right." 

During the second race the crew continued to use the heavy wind to their advantage. 

"Some of the other crews weren't able to use their spinnakers," Megan explains, "because the wind was just too much for them." 

Such a strong wind leaves no room for error. With waves cresting at four and five feet, there is a very real danger of burying the bow of the boat into the ocean. The wind took its toll on other competitors that day; eight people were swept overboard. 

"We were just flying downwind," Megan says, "but we kept our cool." Their reward was another first-place finish. 

The fifth and final day of races was almost anti-climactic. 

"We knew it looked good for us going into the races," Megan  notes, "and we were all a little nervous. It was another windless day, however, and both races were canceled." 

"We were out there in the Sound, waiting to be towed in when the winner was announced-it was us! Crews from the other boats came by and sprayed us with champagne and tossed bouquets of roses to us. As we approached the dock, I spotted my Mom. She'd come to watch the race and didn't realize we'd won until she saw me waving my bouquet of roses." 

That night the crew was feted at an awards ceremony at Rosecliff Mansion in Newport where the movie "The Great Gatsby" was filmed. 

"What a contrast," Megan says. "We won the championship in ratty old torn clothes and foul weather gear, and that night we were all dressed in ball gowns." 

The next day she was back to reality in political science class at Holy Cross.

"Everybody at school was so supportive," Megan says. "I got daily e-mails from my friends, and my professors were understanding about the classes I had to miss." 

Until next summer when she will be competing regularly in Newport, Megan keeps her sailing skills sharp as skipper of the Holy Cross sailing team. 

"There are only five of us, but we hold our own against teams from Harvard, MIT, the Coast Guard Academy and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy," she says. 

In the spring Megan will be doing an internship in Washington, D.C., where she will try to squeeze in some sailing on Chesapeake Bay. 

"No matter what I do, I can always find time to race," she notes. 

Besides the excitement and satisfaction of competing, Megan has learned other important lessons from sailing. 

"Sailing teaches you to stay calm and focused," she says. "If you've ever been in a dangerous situation on the water, you've learned to forget about any thing else except keeping the boat afloat." 

Her lifetime goal is to compete someday in the Whitbread, a race around the world sailed in 60-foot boats. 

"It's a race for hard-core sailors," she explains, "there are not a lot of people in their right mind who want to do it." 

To compete in the Whitbread, a sailor needs experience, imagination and a great deal of determination, all the qualities Megan has developed in her sailing and academic careers. Look for her to be crossing that spectacular finish line someday. 

 

Where the action is 

Annie Lavigne controls the field

By Michelle Mason '00

It takes a lot of dedication for an athlete to receive First Team All-Patriot League and First Team All-Northeast Region honors in the same season. Annie Lavigne '01 earned this recognition during the 1999-2000 season for her contributions to the Crusader field hockey team. 

Lavigne, who is from New Hampshire, decided to attend Holy Cross after seeing the way Coach Meg Galligan ran the field hockey program. "Meg runs the program like a family, which is what I was used to in high school," she says. "The girls on the team seemed so happy-I knew I would like Holy Cross." 

Playing time was another factor that led her to Holy Cross. During her first year, Lavigne started in all 21 games and earned the team's Rookie of the Year award. 

Although Lavigne had played as center forward during high school, she became a mid-fielder when she began playing at Holy Cross. "I wasn't as fast as the other forwards at this level-my passing skills are more tailored to mid-field," she explains. "But it was a big change because I had to learn to play defense!" 

The switch was a good one. Lavigne, who has been named First Team-All Patriot League twice, has totaled 50 career points on 20 goals and 10 assists, a number that ranks her eighth on the College's all-time career scoring list. "Playing mid-field allows me to control the field and get the most action," she says. "I like this position because I can make assists and create opportunities for the forwards." 

Lavigne fought injuries for most of last season. "In June I found out that I had stress fractures in both legs as well as tendonitis and nerve damage, probably a result of overtraining and playing on the old turf."  Despite the pain, she played with the injuries all season, an effort that earned recognition from her teammates and the title of captain for next season. 

One of Lavigne's favorite memories from the fall was the Crusaders' 5-0 victory over Yale in the final home game of the season. "It was a good revenge game because we had lost to them the previous year," she says. 

The team, which hopes to return to the Patriot League Tournament for its fourth consecutive season, has made many improvements in the past few years. "The depth of the team has improved a lot-we have a great bench-which means we can put in any player and continue to play well," says Lavigne.

"While we are losing four seniors (Kate Sitterly, Maquel Salley, Maura McGonagle and Michelle Fecteau), there are many returning players, including the freshmen who worked really hard last season." 

"Field hockey has been even better than I expected it to be," she says. "I played during my first year and the team won the Patriot League Tournament during my first two years. It was great!" 

 

From the Bahamas to Worcester

George Maillis is at home on the soccer field

The transition from high school to college is often a difficult one, especially when it involves moving far away from home. Such was the case for Crusader men's soccer player George Maillis '00 who came to Worcester from the Bahamas four years ago.

Maillis grew up in a country where soccer lacks the support it enjoys in the United States. During the college application process, he decided that he wanted to play the sport in the United States. "My coaches told me to go to college in the States-they thought it would give me an avenue to continue playing," Maillis says. "And, my parents wanted me to attend a good school-I looked at a list of the top liberal arts schools and decided to visit Holy Cross."

The College's size appealed to him. "I wanted to go to a school where I wouldn't be a number," he says. "I saw the family atmosphere here and I liked it." It was more than just standard information and statistics that convinced him, however. Explaining that he only applied to Holy Cross, Maillis says, "I liked Coach (Elvis Comrie) and the guys on the team . I really wanted to come here."

Despite his confidence in Holy Cross, Maillis had doubts about his playing abilities. "I didn't think I was good enough for the team. There is a lot more training and discipline required in the United States," he explains. As it turns out, his doubts were unfounded. Last season Maillis earned Second Team All-Patriot League honors for the third consecutive season while helping the Crusaders to a 9-4-4 record and the Patriot League regular season title. He leaves with the sixth highest point total in history, 48, with 19 career goals and 10 assists.

One of Maillis' fondest memories of the 1999 season was the Army game at West Point under the lights. "I knew it would be an important game," he says. "If we won, we would host the Patriot League tournament and win the league-we really wanted to host the tournament." According to Maillis, that game was the culmination of four years. "I knew it would be the last time we would play Army," he says, "and they were one of our rivals. It was always a good game." The result was a 4-1 victory for Holy Cross; Maillis scored the Crusaders' first goal, tying the score. During the Patriot League Tournament, the Crusaders were upset in the first round by Lafayette in double overtime, 2-1.

According to Maillis, his best memories of Holy Cross come from his experience as a member of the soccer team. "I made great friendships and had the opportunity to travel," he says. "We went to Napa Valley, Calif., Florida and other places I really enjoyed."

After graduation, Maillis is planning to return home to the Bahamas. "I miss the warm weather," he says with a laugh. Even though he is leaving Holy Cross, he knows his interest in soccer will continue, either as a player or as a coach at the high school level. Maillis says, "I definitely will be involved with soccer for a long time."

 

 

Megan Kehew ’01
Megan Kehew '01

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