Isabella du Plessis, a second-year studying mechanical engineering, and Blaine Garner, a first-year studying aerospace engineering, change their angle of attack at Lake Crabtree on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. By changing their angle of attack, du Plessis and Garner's boat was able to turn without losing speed during their practice race.

After a historic 2020-21 season, the NC State club sailing team, or “SailPack,” is looking to earn a trip back to the national championship in 2022.

In spring 2021, the SailPack qualified for the Gill College Sailing National Finals Regatta for the first time in its nearly 70-year program history after a third-place finish at its South Atlantic conference championship regatta. The team was one of 18 to earn a spot at the national finals, which were held at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. After two days of competition, the SailPack finished the 2021 season in 17th place.

Just getting to the national finals was quite an accomplishment for the SailPack, which is a club team that competes with schools where sailing is a varsity sport, such as many of the Ivy League schools. Last season showed just how far the program has come in such a short amount of time under head coach Dana Magliola, who is in his ninth season at the helm.

“We did well; We were never behind the group, always in the mix competitively,” Magliola said. “It answered a lot of questions for us, especially, ‘Could we compete at that level?’ Yes. Now we just have to become more consistent in those performances, make better decisions on the racecourse and we can take it from 17th up to 12th or 10th.”

On top of everything else it had to overcome, the SailPack had to compete in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which proved to be a massive challenge in and of itself.

“COVID is a curveball that we continue dealing with and has made everything 10 times harder,” Magliola said. “With significant protocols, testing, masks, social distancing and other requirements, our sport itself was going through a lot.”

After not even knowing if there would be a season, the SailPack made the most out of its opportunity to compete. The team put in a ton of work towards the goal of making the national championship tournament, and in the end, the team delivered.

“It was awesome,” said senior and outgoing team captain Scott Harris. “We didn’t even know if we were going to be able to compete. Once we were able, we put in a lot of work during the fall season when we weren’t allowed to go to regattas. We trained a lot on and off the water. We had the nationals qualifier circled on the calendar for probably nine or 10 months, and we just worked towards that as a team.”

For Harris, the growth of the program since his arrival on campus has been remarkable.

“I wish I could go back to my first race team meeting just to see how different it was,” Harris said. “We’ve come a long, long way in the last four years. We started a handful of competitive sailors, and now we’re probably six or more boats deep. We could send any variety of different sailors to any event and we’d do well.”

At the national finals, the SailPack was surrounded by traditional powerhouses in the sport, such as Yale, the College of Charleston, Georgetown, Navy, Stanford and others, but the team was not intimidated. Instead, the team kept the focus to prove that it belongs among the best of the best.

“It was ridiculous,” said sophomore and team captain Isabella du Plessis. “You don’t normally see Ivy League schools left and right. It makes you feel like you’ve really done something with the team and how far we’ve come. We worked extremely hard to get there.”

Now, the team is looking to carry that success into the spring 2022 season and make a repeat trip to nationals. In the fall, Magliola said the SailPack finished the regular season first in its division, second overall at conference championships, and won several regattas. One of the highlights of the fall season was the SailPack win at the Savin Hill Invite Regatta at Boston College, which occurred on the same day that the NC State football team beat Boston College 33-7.

“The mid-Atlantic and New England conferences are kind of like the SEC of college sailing,” Magliola said. “You have some of the most well-resourced, best programs up there. Going up to New England and being able to win really put us in a good mindset.”

So far in 2022, the team has been off to a great start. Even though trying to make nationals may be even more challenging this year, the team has overcome adversity before and can do it again.

“This year is going to be more competitive because there’s a semifinal and a finals for nationals,” du Plessis said. “There are more challenges to get there, but it definitely won’t stop us. I feel like we’re in a great place with the team.”

The SailPack begins its quest back to college sailing nationals when it travels to Charleston, South Carolina for the Southern Collegiate Offshore Regatta Feb. 12-13 and begins dinghy competition the following weekend at the SAISA Open at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. South Atlantic Conference championships will be held April 9-10 in Charleston, South Carolina and the Gill College Sailing National Championships will be held May 19-22 in New Orleans, Louisiana.