Sports

Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17 takes helm of Brown sailing

Junior elected as first female captain of co-ed sailing team under coach John Mollicone

By
Staff Writer
Friday, February 12, 2016

Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17 was elected co-ed captain of Brown sailing. She brings individual talent and leadership ability to the team.

The boat surged through the water, buffeted by high winds and falling snow. It was late fall, and the temperature was hovering in the mid-30s.

In other words, it was hardly sailing weather.

“It was snowing, it was so windy, you couldn’t feel any limbs,” said Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17, newly elected sailing team captain and a former Herald opinions editor. “It was the type of racing where, out of 18 boats, 11 of them were capsized because it was just so brutal out.”

It was November 2014, and Dartmouth was hosting a regatta. The 18-race competition would play an important role in determining which teams would move on to the Atlantic Coast Championships.

“My crew and I were in A Division,” Grapengeter-Rudnick said. Along with the B Division team, the two boats from Brown “both went out and won two races in a row, which was four wins in the last two races of the regatta.”

“We had so much adrenaline,” she said. “It was so windy and cold, and everyone was so miserable … but at the same time, we were happy being miserable, because it was our element.”

It was indeed. The wins in the final two races of the regatta catapulted the Bears into third place — and qualified them for a spot in the Atlantic Coast Championships.

Grapengeter-Rudnick’s mix of skill, leadership and passion for sailing have made her the first female captain of the co-ed sailing team under Head Coach John Mollicone.

Setting Sail

For Grapengeter-Rudnick, intense races are nothing new. In fact, she’s been sailing in them for almost as long as she can remember.

“I started sailing when I was seven because both my parents are huge sailors,” she said. “It’s a kind of small community where people meet sailing, they get married and then they force their kids to sail.”

She first took up sailing at Noroton Yacht Club in Darien, Conn., where her parents had previously been long-time sailors. “I hated it until I was 12 or 13,” she said, “but once I established myself, I started to really enjoy it.”

She quickly began moving up the ladder of sailing competitions. At age 10, she started to compete nationally. Two years later, she was racing around the world.

“When I was 12, it got to the international level,” she said. “We started going to Germany, the Netherlands, Italy for competitions. From there until college, I continued doing international all over Europe and South America.”

In fact, before starting college, she considered the Olympics. In 2012 and 2013, she qualified for the Sperry Top-Sider U.S. Olympic Development Team.

“It was one women’s boat and one men’s boat for the whole country,” she said. “It was meant to give you an idea of the track you might take. You might sail against these international people, and then once you get older, you might try and do an Olympic campaign.”

But then Grapengeter-Rudnick started college and found much less time for international competition “because other countries don’t have college sailing the way we do,” she said.

She has only competed in collegiate sailing events since coming to Brown, and the team has seen more than its share of impressive accolades since her arrival.

“When I got here, we were doing well in New England,” she said. “We struggled a little bit at nationals my freshman year. Then last year, our co-ed team won New England, which was a very large deal, and the women’s team finished third at nationals.”

But this fall, as Grapengeter-Rudnick studied abroad in Paris, the team did not perform as well as they hoped.

“It was a little bit of a rough fall for everyone,” she said. “I can’t really speak to it much because I wasn’t around, but we have a pattern. Even if we don’t do so well in the fall, we usually bounce back in the spring.”

Aye, aye captain

One December morning in Paris, Grapengeter-Rudnick awoke to exciting news: She had been elected co-ed team captain.

“I woke up to a bunch of texts and calls at 5 a.m. from my friends on the team, congratulating me and asking me to Skype in,” she said. According to teammate Reid Secondo ’16, a Herald opinions columnist, the election “wasn’t very close. It was fairly unanimous.”

The election, she knew, was a testament to the strength of her leadership. “It’s hard to get elected when you’re abroad, because people quite literally might forget about you,” she said.

“Usually when you go abroad you forfeit whatever claim to leadership positions you would have had otherwise,” said teammate Rachel Gutman ’17, a former Herald copy editor. “But she’s a complete standout in our year. She’s incredibly talented on the water, but she also does a very good job of getting along with absolutely everybody.”

Grapengeter-Rudnick is the first woman to be elected co-ed captain since Head Coach John Mollicone took the helm of the team in 1999. Having already been a strong presence on the women’s team, she has now taken over leadership of the entire group.

“It was very validating to be elected co-ed captain as a woman, because it elevated women’s sailing,” she said. “There’s a general feeling that women’s sailing is easier ­­— which it might be. But it’s also nice to know that people think that just because you sail the women’s circuit doesn’t mean that you’re not a good sailor.”

“There’s an expectation that the best leader who happens to be a woman will be the women’s captain, which has been under fire the last couple of years because the positions really aren’t equal,” Gutman said. “The women’s captain is only a leadership role for half the team, if that. The co-ed captain is a lot more involved with coordinating with the coach and with what the team is doing overall.”

“I’ve known her well since she came to Brown, and I knew her outside of college through sailing,” Secondo said. “She’s always had a commitment to being a good sportsman, leading by example and being a very inclusive type of captain and leader.”

According to Gutman, Grapengeter-Rudnick’s absence was noticeable in the team’s performance, and her return should produce a positive effect.

“It did seem that the women’s team especially was struggling, because she’s the A-skipper,” Gutman said. “She was already a great source of leadership for the women’s team, and now that she’s co-ed captain, she’s going to be bringing that to the next level.”

Mollicone noticed her absence as well.

“Our women’s team certainly suffered in the rankings,” he said. “We finished third last year, but this fall was certainly a bit of a rebuilding season without her.”

Charting the Waters

Grapengeter-Rudnick is excited to get back in the water and lead her team once again.

“I was elected in December, and I came back and jumped right in,” she said. “These past four or five months is the longest I’ve ever spent not in a boat since I started sailing when I was seven. I’m really excited to see what we can do this spring as a team.”

Grapengeter-Rudnick has already set ambitious goals for the spring season, including qualifying for nationals in California.

As far as her more distant future goes, Grapengeter-Rudnick is less certain; until her time as captain expires, she will focus entirely on the Brown program. But she has not ruled out a future Olympic bid.

“It would be very possible for me,” she said, adding that several female Brown sailing alums are currently pursuing Olympic campaigns. “We’re churning out sailors that are good enough to compete at the Olympic level. I haven’t totally ruled it out.”

“She certainly has the skill to compete to go to the Olympics,” Mollicone said. “Right now the Olympic trials are going on for sailing, and three of our recent graduates of the program are in contention to go. Megan stacks up really well with the kind of sailors they were in college to do the same thing if she wanted to.”

Regardless, her immediate focus is on her final seasons as a Brown Bear and final chances to win at a national level.  As she looks at the upcoming season, Grapengeter-Rudnick is optimistic.

“We did so well last spring that I’m just so excited to try and do it again,” she said. “We’ll try and pick up where we left off. I just can’t wait to be a part of it and see where we can all lead each other.”

Grapengeter-Rudnick has one full year as captain to accomplish her ultimate goal: both women’s and co-ed teams making the podium at the national championships in California. She’s prepared, confident and ready to hit the upcoming season in stride. And based on her track record, she’ll do all she can to make sure that what is now just a goal becomes reality in May.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Head Coach John Mollicone is Class of 1998. In fact, he did not go to Brown. The Herald regrets the error.