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Courtesy of Al Ruscelli

Credit: Al Ruscelli

There’s a new skipper in town — and her name is Lenox Butcher.

At the LaserPerformance Women’s Singlehanded National Championship last weekend, Penn sailing’s Lenox Butcher recorded the best-ever finish for the Quakers at a national sailing competition, finishing ninth in a highly competitive field.

Butcher, a freshman in the Penn sailing club, qualified for the national championship in the singlehanded women’s division. But the path to the top wasn’t easy.

In her conference championship, the last step before nationals, Butcher found herself down early with a couple of poor races to start. In collegiate sailing, however, it’s not always those who start best that succeed, but those who consistently grind out results over the 14-race competition.

And grind it out she did. A long series of high-place finishes to round out the competition failed to ensure her the automatic qualification of a top-two finish, but her third-place performance was good enough for an at-large bid to nationals.

“That was a really, really good finish to be third, almost second, at the conference championship and the No. 1 freshman in the conference for women’s singles, which is great,” Penn coach Jack Swickart, a 2015 Wharton graduate, said. “It bodes really well for our women’s team in general. ... We’re expecting great things.”

So Butcher made the trip down to Texas A&M Galveston for her first national championship in her first season. It may seem like she would have been in unchartered waters, but the trip was special to her in part because of how familiar her surroundings were.

“It was really incredible for a lot of reasons,” she said. “It was great to have qualified and to be able to go. Also, I’m from Houston, so I actually got to go home and stay in my house and see my family, which was awesome.”

The moment she hit the water, she knew it would be a more typical performance. Butcher admits that she usually tends to start strong and fade at the end of the day — not surprising for a young freshman still adjusting to the grueling toll 10 races in a day can take on the quads.

So after finding herself tied for fourth place after four races, it wasn’t surprising to see her slide down the rankings as the day went on. Five of the last six races on the first day of competition saw her finish in the double-digits, and at the end of the Saturday, she sat in 11th.

Sunday was a new day, though, and a late surge of seventh-, third-, sixth- and second-place finishes saw Butcher break into the top-10 to finish ninth — the highest of any Quaker ever in an Intercollegiate Sailing Association National Championship. The rookie also finished third out of all the freshmen in the nation, indicating that her ranking should rise more with time.

As for the whole sailing program, the future looks bright, according to Swikart. The entire freshman class is talented and dedicated to putting in hours, he said, but there was one thing missing — funding.

“Definitely the number one thing on our wish list is to be able to pay for a full-time coach,” he said.

Butcher agreed with her part-time coach’s assessment.

“We’re getting by ... but we’re also aware that we could be so much better if we did have more funding. We can’t pay for a coach to do another day during the week, which is a problem because a lot of people have midterms on Tuesdays or Thursdays, so there are a few weeks when a lot of people miss practice because they’ve got midterms or conflicts that they can’t move. As a result, we get less practice time.”

For non-varsity sports, that’s often the rub — more practice time, more success in competition. If they can figure that out, they might show up in the headlines a little more often in the future.