As she wrapped up her sophomore year at Dartmouth College, Deirdre Lambert also clinched the Big Green’s first national title since 2000, winning A Division at the Sperry Top-Sider Women’s Finals by a crushing 37 points despite fierce competition and mercurial conditions. While the Big Green’s home waters of Lake Mascoma didn’t thaw until mid-April, the team turned adversity into advantage by trekking to new waters and maximizing their productivity when they could practice. According to Lambert, it was this focus and the ability to keep an even keel that led her to such a phenomenal season.
You and your crew, Carissa Crawford, performed phenomenally at Nationals, garnering only 68 points with the boat in second racking up 105. What was your personal mindset going into the event that led you to be so successful?
DL: I think it was just to take each race at a time, and make sure you’re not making any huge mistakes like being over or fouling someone that can ruin a race and get you a deep teen. Our coach [John Storck] makes sure that we only think about the current race at hand—he would give you feedback, but then make sure that you move on to the next race. He makes sure that you’re not getting too high or too low. After a bad race, he’s kind of like “shake it off,” and after a good one, it’s like, “You have to go do that again.” It’s kind of just even-keel coaching. I think that was our whole team mentality, and I think it worked out well.
How did it feel do earn such prestigious accolades—being named the Quantum Women’s College Sailor of the Year—after just two years of college sailing?
DL: It was really a great honor. It meant a lot to me and my crew and the whole team. We worked really hard this year, and I think that it just sort of symbolized what we all had worked toward. I don’t really see any distinction that it came after my sophomore year, I just sort of happened to have a good year at all the big regattas!
The Dartmouth sailing team as a whole had an incredible end to the season this past year—it was the only team to snag a podium finish in both the Sperry Top-Sider Women’s Finals and the Gill Coed Championship. How did that program this past year lead to such success?
DL: I think it’s just continuing to make the most of practice. This spring, the lake was frozen for a while—until the week before Coed New Englands—so we were traveling to Boston or Vermont to practice, but I think it’s just focusing on the little things and getting better every practice. We did well at Nationals, and that was awesome, but it’s really the whole team working really hard and pushing each other at practice.
What are some of the “little things” that you focus on in practice?
DL: This spring, we worked a lot on our starts and accelerations, specifically, and then just making sure that our mark roundings or our tacks were good, and not focusing too much on the big picture of trying to win a race, per se, but trying to do each thing well around the course. In the fall, we had some trouble with pre-start and timing to the line and entrances, which made our starts go not so well. But we worked on that, and at Nationals, we had pretty good starts the whole regatta.
Do you have any specific tips for starting?
DL: We work a lot on our accelerations, which is something our coaches emphasize. My crew, Carissa [Crawford], is super good at them, so that helps. Also, trying to start different places on the line a lot in practice; I feel a lot more comfortable for some reason starting at the pin, but making sure in practice that we do a few boat starts.
What are some of your other secrets to success, across the board?
DL: We focus on speed a lot. It’s something that I’ve had a lot of emphasis on since before college—in junior sailing, we did speed tests for hours—and I think it’s another added benefit to be able to blast around the racecourse. For people who sail against us, they know we pinch a lot; we work on trying to shut out the boat to windward off the starting line so that we can have options. Also, just keeping things simple up the racecourse and finding clear lanes is important—if you don’t have that great of a start taking some extra leverage just to get a better lane. Then you can work into the middle later in the beat rather than trying to fight your way back up through the middle during the beat, because that’s something we used to do and it didn’t work so well.
With half your college sailing experience still ahead of you, what long-term goals do you have?
DL: For the next two years, I just want to keep doing well in sailing and make sure the team stays as competitive as we can. Team racing has been great, but hopefully I’ll be able to sail some more coed regattas. Our team has a lot of potential for the next two years, and I want to make sure that we all keep improving and do the best that we can at important regattas.
You broke into team racing with Dartmouth’s coed team this past spring, helping lead the team to a 6th-place finish at the Fowle Trophy, the New England Team Racing Conference Championship. What was that like for you?
DL: It was a ton of fun! I love team racing, and we had a better year than past years, but we still have a lot of work to do. It’s going to be good to see what we can do next year.
What did you focus on in team racing this past year?
DL: This year, we’ve mostly just been learning team racing. I hadn’t done much 3 on 3; I had done team racing in Optis, but that was 4 on 4. So, mostly continuing to work on boathandling and just getting team communication about the plays down. That was one of our big goals for the spring, and I think we got a lot better at it, but we still have a long way to go. Just making sure that we’re all on the same page, and that we could all do our jobs as needed.
Do you think that the team racing experiences helped improve your fleet racing?
DL: It makes you a lot better at tight maneuvers and small boathandling. We find ourselves on the port layline a lot—I’m not sure why!—but it definitely has helped us to be confident in our boathandling. We now know that we can pull off a quick tack here and there, or do a big duck and then tack.
You mentioned that you wanted to sail more coed fleet racing events next year. Do you have any personal goals in that arena?
DL: We have more than two really good coed skippers … Matt [Wefer] and Scott [Houck] really crushed this year, but it’s going to be good to do some coed racing in addition to women’s. It’s always good to mix it up and get some different experience; I’m just going to take it weekend by weekend and see what we get.