At The Stony Brook School, it’s smooth sailing

The sailors from The Stony Brook School convened on dry land, gathering in their hotel lobby. 

This was in New Jersey, on June 2, the night before the Interscholastic Sailing Association’s Mallory National Championship began on the Toms River.

The topic of discussion was the Bears’ potential final destination in the 20-team points standings following a 13th-place showing in 2022 when they made the two-day national regatta for the first time in program history.

“We were like, we think we can get top 10. We think that’s an achievable goal, achievable but still difficult,” said Sean Beaver, a Tufts-bound senior from Riverhead. “ . . . So we got out there the first day and we just started performing really well, and we were all very surprised with how we were doing.”

The sail team posted top-five finishes in eight of the day’s combined total of 20 races for the two-person dinghies in the A and B divisions. It stood fourth in those standings before dropping back to eighth. So these boys and girls met again that night, ahead of the final 10 races in Day Two. Beaver said they upgraded the overall goal to “top five.”

They nearly made it. Beaver and junior Mauro Gonzalez, who had teamed for a runner-up finish at the May qualifier to clinch the Bears’ berth, kept moving up in the final race and arrived second. That put The Stony Brook School sixth overall, capping a sensational spring season. 

“Just being able to go out there and prove ourselves was just awesome,” Beaver said.

So what does placing No. 6 nationally say about the state of this program?

“That we’re going through a period of growth and focus,” said Johnny Everitt, the 41-year-old Bellport native and resident and former Bears sailor who has served as the school’s director of marine programs since 2016.

“The kids on the team have really just found new ways of tapping their potential. A lot of it has just been about setting goals and putting in the effort. It’s not really any magic that’s happened. But our coaches have built these kids up mentally and physically where they’re able to just come back and solve problems.”

Besides Beaver and Gonzalez, senior Amy Li, junior Gavin Hudson and Mairead Reitzel, a junior from Bellport, helped the Bears sail past their original expectations at the national competition. Senior Jeremy Lunati, from Coram, and sophomore Joshua Henson, from Smithtown, made important contributions to the varsity, too.

It was a team that also repeated as league champion. Then it three-peated as state champion, winning 30 of 32 races.

“There’s a huge amount of pride because the progress that we’ve made just in the last five or six years is really amazing,” said Rocky Point’s Wally Henry, who coaches the varsity with Blue Point’s Brian Elliott and with help from Everitt.

“When I first got here [in 2016], we had a hard time even being on a podium in a local regatta. And now here we are, the sixth-best team in the country.” 

The program has a floating dock for its boats at Port Jefferson Harbor for practice. 

“We get about 40 kids out on the water fall and spring,” Everitt said. “The season with all the trophies is spring sailing.”

Reitzel has been one of the varsity kids since her freshman year.

“I grew up sailing in Bellport, just like in the summer at my local yacht club,” she said. “Actually, part of the reason why I wanted to come to Stony Brook was I really enjoyed sailing and I wanted to do it more.”

“Sailing is super interesting because it’s definitely a mental game,” Reitzel added. “. . . There’s a lot of tactics and strategy that goes into it.”

Despite the team’s graduation losses, there’s optimism over what’s ahead in the water.

“Even this season from last year, we lost a lot of good people, seniors that graduated, and we were able to get a higher place than we did last year at nationals,” Henson said. “I think our team is improving . . . We still have room to grow. But I think that next year, I don’t how it will compare to this year, but I definitely think we’ll still do pretty well.” 

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