Sophia Reineke’s Journey Doesn’t Fall Short With Second Place

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Sailors learn how to live in a world out of their control. Maybe more than any other sport, they depend on situations granted only by Mother Nature, and anything from currents to wind speed to an overall, natural chop on the water can ruin an otherwise-strong day at the office. They have their preferred style, but they simply can’t expect to go out on their craft and enforce it until they know what nautical conditions are in the forecast.

It makes performing at a high level both critical and challenging, but it’s something Boston College senior Sophia Reineke learned while she sailed for the Eagles. She’s always been talented, but harnessing those talents to a vast array of conditions is something she developed over time as an acquired set of skills.

Last weekend, Reineke put every one of those talents on full display when she was arguably the best and most consistent sailor at the 2021 ICSA College Sailing Women’s Singlehanded National Championship. She was dominant among the fleet at the two-day regatta, and she finished as one of the strongest boats with a second-place finish to a sailor who enjoyed optimal personal conditions.

“It was a little nerve-wracking at first,” Reineke said. “The girls [at the regatta] are always really, really good, and most of them had been training during the summer and during the school year. A lot of them didn’t take time off last year [during the COVID-19 pandemic]. So there’s no way to underestimate the fleet, and it’s jam-packed competitively. But it was really great to get out there with your friends, the ones that you’ve grown up with your whole life, into a [competition] that any one of them could win. It meant you had to give it your all, and it was just really cool to be back.”

Two Eagles competed among the 18 boats on Chesapeake Bay over the weekend with junior Elizabeth Shanahan joining Reineke as representatives of Boston College, and both competed in 14 different races over the two days on the water. Reineke jumped out front almost immediately by winning the first race, and she remained ahead of the competition with two additional wins. She recorded three different second place finishes behind only Jacksonville’s Charlotte Rose, who was disqualified in the first race but quickly made up the difference in the standings with five victories.

The conditions on the water were optimal for Rose to climb back up the standings, and she opened the second day with four consecutive victories heading into the last two races. Reineke, who posted three fifth place finishes over that same frame, rallied to win Race 13 and Race 14, but Rose finished second in each to earn a one-point victory over Reineke for the singlehanded championship. 

“Charlotte won the regatta,” BC head coach Greg Wilkinson said. “She was faster in the conditions that we sailed. It’s a sport of variables, and maybe the biggest variable is the wind, and both the strength and direction were the same for most of the event. That wind strength really suited Charlotte at right around 14 knots, and due to her size, her strength, her training and her experience, she made her boat go faster than anyone else who was at that event, and it was by a wide margin.”

There were moments, though, where Reineke was clearly the next best at the event and possibly the best overall sailor in the fleet. The conditions remained consistently in Rose’s favor, but there were times when the wind shifted or the water momentarily moved to Reineke’s favor. In those moments, their two boats remained close and competitive, and even though Rose won the event, Reineke finished nine points clear of the third place finisher, Lilly Myers of Cornell.

“The conditions were medium to heavy and, for me, a little breezy,” Reineke said. “I’m definitely one of the smaller girls, but at my fitness level, I need to remain competitive in most conditions. I think I did a little bit better when the wind slowed to around 12 knots, but my goal in those races was to make the boat go as fast as possible and use whatever advantage I had in those conditions. It was never about thinking I couldn’t do something when it was a little bit breezier, and I used my prior experience and technique. I was pretty quick on the downwind, and I knew if I could keep it close against the bigger girls, I’d be right [where I needed to be] when the downwind progressed through races.”

It was a mental approach acquired through four years of development in the BC program. Reineke has always had the physical talent and arrived in Chestnut Hill as one of the most notable youth racers in the world. She was a member of the US Olympic Development Team and finished fourth at the ILCA Youth Worlds with a first place finish in the A Division at the ISSA Fleet Race National Championship. Her sister, Erika, was a former Eagle who sailed at BC and competed for an Olympic spot on the United States national team. 

Gaining the experience on how to defeat some of the most elite national talent is something she had to learn, though, and her career offers a clear glimpse at how to elevate performances through the collegiate ladder. She finished fifth at the NEISA Singlehanded Championship with 55 points as a freshman before winning the LaserPerformance Women’s Singlehanded Championship the next year with a second place finish in both the team race and the singlehanded race for the NEISA as a sophomore.

It set the tone for a junior year in which she became one of the best pure athletes at Boston College, and she won both her second National Singlehanded Championship while beginning a path through team racing. After the season ended with COVID-19 canceling the spring session, she took last year off before returning to the water to finish second to Rose this year.

“Sailing events in college are generally longer than the events that people sail before college,” Wilkinson said, “and on a daily basis, we sail long days and more races than anyone has sailed before getting [to BC]. So that consistency, being able to put together an entire regatta and understanding what it takes to win, not to just be good, at these things is where the biggest development comes in.”

“I came into college like most young kids do,” Reineke said with a laugh. “They think they can beat all of these people and then come in and have it handed to them. It really puts a perspective on who is out there doing their thing and who is mature, composed and consistent. I’ve had a lot of highs, but they fluctuated where I could be good at one event and the next event would spiral out of control. As I’ve matured, I’ll go into each event with a different set of goals and make them my priority. That mentality lets me address how to refocus and not let the small things get to me.”

“She sent her process-oriented goals on Friday night [before the championship] and the reality is that the regatta was going to require the discipline to stick to those in every single race,” Wilkinson added. “This event was a great way to end the [fall] season for her because I think it speaks pretty well to the spring because we’ve had other people step up. We know what she’s capable of, and she proved that this past weekend. Now we’ll combine it with some of the other kids who are stepping up for the spring, and things look like they could be pretty good [for BC].”



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