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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lake or lagoon, it won't faze Hawaii

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Three-time all-conference skipper Hannah Tuson-Turner, left, and Hanne Nagatani lead Hawai'i in its bid for its first national title since 2001.

University of Hawai'i

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Hawai'i might be sailing's version of a fish out of water with the collegiate national championships taking place on a lake over the next seven days, but at least the Rainbow Wahine know they will eat well. Their championship banquet is a lū'au.

"I asked if they had the imu ready when I mailed in our registration," Hawa[0xee]'i coach Andy Johnson said. "I'm not sure they knew what I was talking about."

The Intercollegiate Sailing Association Women's National Championship begins Tuesday at Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisc. Semifinals are the first two days, with Hawai'i one of 18 teams trying to finish in the top half and advance to the final two days against nine district champions.

When that's over, the 14-team ICSA/APS Team Race National Championship runs Saturday to Monday. Hawai'i is in Group I with fifth-ranked Charleston, Northwestern, Texas A&M Galveston, third-ranked St. Mary's (Md.), seventh-ranked Tufts and second-ranked Yale.

The 'Bows also qualified for the Coed Dinghy Championship for the first time since 2005 the year after they won the national title. They did not get out of semifinals earlier this month, in part because they could not afford to send alternates so did not have enough weight in their boats to deal with the conditions.

It is the first time the program has qualified all three squads since 2004, and this team has just two seniors (Darla Baldwin and Ryan Wild). Johnson, who sailed for UH in the early 1980s and became coach in 1989, has now qualified teams for 40 national championships. He has had 15 All-Americans and two Olympians, including Kailua's John Myrdal. Johnson is now the school's most senior coach aside from Dave Shoji.

The Rainbow Wahine are appearing in their 11th national in the last 13 years. They won the national title in 2001 and were second a year later. This season, they are the young and the relentless, particularly "Team Hannah" three-time all-conference skipper Hannah Tuson-Turner and freshman Hanne Nagatani.

"Hannah is just fiery," said Johnson, who compares Tuson-Turner to former UH All-American Molly O'Bryan. "Hannah is on the same track as Molly, has a lot of the same traits. She gets fired up and the first couple years either she would shut down or make it happen. This year she's turned the corner a bit and is channeling her frustration into the next race."

It worked remarkably well at Pacific Coast Championships. "Team Hannah" was cut off early in the regatta and Tuson-Turner quickly got even, winning the rest of her races.

She came to Hawai'i from Orcas Island High School in Washington, where her graduating class was 46 and she has sailed since fifth grade. A personal visit to see Hawai'i's program there are no scholarships in sailing hooked her and most boats have been chasing since.

Tuson-Turner is hoping for "single-digit" finishes all weekend for the women.

"We have to be entirely focused," she says. "We really have the potential. Both Hanne and Jackie (McLoughlin) have come so far this year. Jackie was crew last year and decided to go for it because we needed another skipper. She's really showing us she can kick some butt. It's going to be hard. We'll have to be in it mentally and be ready physically if there's a big breeze."

Hawai'i will not be completely out in the cold at least figuratively in Madison. They have fans driving in from the Land of 10,000 Lakes Johnson and skipper Zach Hester were born in Minnesota and Chicago, where freshman Holly Nishiguchi grew up.

They will make sure the Rainbows are well aware of the impact of fresh as opposed to salt water, expected to be some 50 degrees. The topics of topography and Eurasian watermilfoil weed, which was accidentally introduced to North America and now affects the Great Lakes region, will also be studied.

But Lake Mendota is actually much bigger than Ke'ehi and few places can be as "shifty" as the lagoon where Hawai'i trains. "For the most part," Johnson says, "if you've got wind, water and waves, there's not much difference."

The other great equalizer is sailing's most addictive trait.

"This gets me in the zone more than anything else I've ever done," Tuson-Turner says. "Especially at that moment when everybody is moving together and putting all the pieces together and not thinking about anything else. Those times when you are in tune with everything the wind, the waves and the other person, it is so good.

"It's like surfing, that moment when you are dropping into the wave. That's the only thing I know that is similar."