Sailing team wins McMillan Cup, poised for strong spring

New head coach takes over program that has won national championships, produced Olympians and All Americans

KINGSTON, R.I. – Jan. 25, 2023-– How’s this for a start to a University of Rhode Island head coaching stint? You take over at the beginning of the fall semester, and then in October, your team wins the McMillan Cup, awarded to the first-place finisher at the oldest collegiate sailing regatta.

Not only that. Your team wins the cup for the first time in 52 years over powerhouses like the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (second) and the U.S. Naval Academy (third).

“I was at the Naval Academy for a little more than two years as an assistant coach,” said new Rhody sailing head coach Matthew Peter. “There was nothing wrong with that job, but I am from Cape Cod and wanted to get back to family and friends. The McMillan Cup victory was a testament to the people who get the history and culture of our program.”

At the McMillen Cup, Rhody was credited with sailing a smart and consistent regatta, starting each race cleanly to post scores of 2, 1, 1 and 2. In sailing, a lower score is better, so a first-place finish earns a crew one point and a second-place finish two points. So, Rhody’s first-place total of six points, bested the Merchant Marine Academy’s eight points and Navy’s 15.

Team co-captain Tyler Miller, a senior mechanical engineering major from Newport, said that winning the McMillan Cup was a remarkable feat since the team added three new sailors in the fall season. “Also, we don’t have a boat the size of the boats used at the regatta, so we had one day of practice to get used to a Naval Academy boat.”

URI sailing team members with McMillan Cup championship silverware in front row from left: Tyler Miller; assistant coach Jesse Fielding, and Rowan Woods; second row from left, Anthony Purcell, AJ Kozaritz, Alden Coldreck, Miles Bailey, Jonathan Riley, Ava Wilson, and Thomas Johnson. Photo courtesy URI sailing.

But Miller said the team was fortunate because members did plenty of sailing together during summers in similar size boats.

“We all know our jobs, but we had to pull together to win in October,” said Miller, who was an integral part of the offshore team that came in second in 2021’s Kennedy Cup, college sailing’s national championship.

Fellow co-captain Eliza Taylor, a senior ocean engineering major from Newport, said the fall season starts Sept. 1 and ends Nov. 1.

“During that time, we practice four days a week and compete on Saturdays and Sundays in regattas around New England,” Taylor said.

“From November until the end of February, the team participates in indoor training doing cardio workouts, weight training and other high-intensity exercise,” Taylor said. “In fact, URI Campus Rec has great fitness programs in which we participate, such as stationary cycling and F45 Training (which combines high-intensity interval training, circuit training and functional training).”

And there’s the rub, Peter said.

“There are no NCAA-sanctioned sailing competitions, and the national and international sailing associations do not distinguish between varsity and club teams,” Peter said. “But the only difference between our team (which is a club team at URI) and varsity teams is the pot of money available to the team.

“But my expectation is that if you are on the sailing team at URI, you are a student-athlete, no different than a member of the varsity teams at URI,” he added. “So our players need to be physically and mentally ready to compete against some of the top programs in the country.”

One of the ways he prepares his team seems a bit unorthodox for the coach of a water sport; he has his team read the book “The Inner Game of Tennis.” 

“It’s about so much more than tennis because it has lessons on mental and emotional discipline that can assist my athletes and many others who want to be better at sports, work, etc.,” Peter said. “The book became popular in the 1970s and uses professional tennis as a lens through which athletes can improve the mental side of the game. It talks about the ‘flow state,’ the conscious thought that is applicable to all aspects of life.

“Sailing is a mind game and physical competition,” Taylor said. “The environment is constantly changing so you can never be entirely perfect.”

“It’s really a lot of fun when it’s really windy,” said fellow co-captain Miller. “Also, you get impatient to compete. It’s what keeps me coming back outside, to win races. You have to analyze the weather and the currents to be successful.”

There are about 50 student-athletes on the team who compete in both fall and spring seasons.

“During the fall, our team showed consistent growth with improving regatta results each weekend,” Taylor said. “Matt’s coaching and guidance contributed to this positive trajectory. He’s been a great addition to the team. We are looking forward to the spring and hope to carry this momentum with us throughout the team racing season.”

During Peter’s time as an assistant coach at Annapolis, Navy won the Coed Fleet and Team Race nationals. As an elite level coach, he also runs One United Sailing, a performance training and coaching program that develops medal winning sailors in the Club 420 fleet.

In addition to Miller, other members of the winning McMillan Cup team were: senior Jonathan Riley of Marion, Massachusetts; Thomas Johnson of Annapolis, Maryland; AJ Kozaritz of Vermillion, Ohio; Miles Bailey of Middletown; Anthony Purcell of East Greenwich; Rowan Woods of Sutton, Massachusetts, Alden Coldreck of Kennebunkport, Maine and Ava Wilson of Chicago