Q&A With Sailing Head Coach Mitch Brindley
May 26, 2005
Written By: Kevin Shields
Mitch Brindley is finishing up his tenth season as head coach of the Monarch sailing program. During those ten seasons, the ODU alum from 1989 has built the program into one of the finest in the country. This season his team enjoyed early success with Anna Tunnicliffe winning her record-breaking third straight Singlehanded title in October and the team finishing third at the MAISA Women's Dinghy Championship. The team recently qualified for next week's ICSA Women's and the ICSA Dinghy Championships where they'll get the chance to compete for two national championships.
What has it been like having Anna Tunnicliffe here and what kind of mark has she made on the program?
"Anna is obviously a great sailor to have. She's been an outstanding competitor in her ability and has also been a great leader for the team. She helps motivate other members and that is what is so critical...to have someone part of your squad that can do that. Not only do they take care of their performance, but they help bring everyone else up too. She obviously had a tremendous impact. Winning three national championships is a pretty big impact that someone can leave, but it's also been the great things and other efforts she has put in for the whole program that have been nice."
Anna's younger brother David is also on your squad and has had some success for you. How has he set himself apart from Anna on your team?
"David has really come along and is going to be quite good. He is also dedicated and driven like Anna is and that's another great quality about him. He is getting good ...he is coming along quickly and we are looking forward to a couple more years of having him. He is different from Anna first off in that he is a boy, but he also brings his own personality to the team and they get along really well and are pretty close."
You had a great senior class coming into the season that you were really expecting a lot out of, how have they lived up to the expectations?
"Well it hasn't been a huge senior class...I mean really we're only graduating Anna and Bill (Berg), who are graduating starters and then we graduated someone in the fall too. But they've been great. Both Anna and Bill were truly team leaders, but we got some great juniors that are coming along also and will be very good. Charles Higgins and Michael Smith are two of those juniors that will be very good for us here in the future."
How well has your 13 member freshmen class fit into the overall team chemistry for you?
"We've lost some through attrition, but those who have been here are starting to fit in. The idea though is that you don't try to force them to fit into our mold and that you let them bring in their own personalities and skills and use those to the team's advantage. I mean you obviously try to eliminate the bad behavior, but you try to fit it all in. I think one of the neat things about our team is that we do have some really varied personalities and people that come from different backgrounds."
Have there been any real surprises as far as performance has gone this season?
"Well there haven't been any real bad performances which is nice, but there have been some surprises. I was really pleased with how we did at our coed district championship...the America's Trophy. I think that was a lot of surprises for the other teams as well. I've always known that we've had that potential to do really well and haven't always had the top team. Then having the team work and operate as whole instead of as a bunch of individuals has been big. Bill had a very good regatta for us and then struggled a little bit and then Charles Higgins came in for us and did really well in relief. So the way they work as a team has been really pleasing for me this year."
What in your mind has been the single biggest accomplishment made this season?
"It would be really easy to say Anna winning another Singlehanded championship. Obviously that was a really big accomplishment not only individually, but in representing the team as well. I think our biggest team accomplishment though was how much team cohesion we had this year, particularly amongst the coed squad. I think that is our biggest accomplishment...bigger than winning the championship."
What are you expecting going into the ICSA Championships?
"It's hard to tell...the verdict is still out. I think Anna will be sailing at the women's event to win A division. I think Maureen will be starting in B division for the women and if she has a good regatta where she sails to her potential then she'll be competing for a top three spot. Then in the coed event it's about the same thing where I think we could be sailing for a top eight spot."
Who are you expecting to be some of the top contending teams there?
"USC will be very good and Hawaii will be good. Those are two really good teams. St. Mary's and Harvard should also be very good and two more teams that will contend for the championship."
What do you feel your strengths are right now as you go into the Championships?
"Boat speed...we're a fast team in the way we move through the water. That's a big strength and for some it'll be mental strength, but right now our boat speed is good and we're a fast team."
Outside of coaching you are the ICSA President, has there been any new developments or happenings with the ICSA over the course of the season?
"One thing that I've been working on is to get the Dinghy and the team race Championships...women's won't be on, but it will be on ESPNU. So I've been working on that and making those arrangements. We got an Emmy Award winning producer to be the commentator and the executive producer of the event in Gary Jobson, who has done the TV coverage for the last four America's Cups and the last two Olympics. Other real issues that we are dealing with right now are regulation and realignment issues between the districts. We are looking at trying to impose some different scheduling restrictions and stuff like that. That way the teams that can afford to do the most traveling can't do that anymore and there have been some political battles with that. But I think overall that'll benefit the organization and help the younger programs develop easier."
As the off-season and summer approaches what will the team be involved with in preparation for next fall?
"Well we'll start our recruiting and continue with that really getting into our recruiting for next year. We'll also do a lot of fundraising...we got to pay for all this stuff somehow so we do a lot of fundraising. Then we do a lot sponsor development and donor development stuff to get people involved and interested in the program along with some outside sailing."
As an ODU alum and having been involved with the program as both a coach and team member how much has the program changed over that time span?
"Well college sailing has grown tremendously since I was in school. It's become more sophisticated and more competitive. We're still sailing the same boats, but the level of ability of the college sailor is increasing. I'd like to say that when I was in school that we were a lot better sailors than they are now, but I think now the kids that come into college sailing are a little more prepared for it doing a lot of high school sailing. Here at Old Dominion in particular, we've seen much greater support from the university and college itself. I mean I use to have to raise two-thirds of our operating budget annually and that's just a lot of work to raise that kind of money every year and then raise money for capital expenses too. But now we've gotten to the point where the university and athletic department are able to provide greater support financially for our program. That helps and when we raise money we still raise money for our operating and travel expenses, but we're also able to put more money aside for our fleet and capital expenses as well. When I was in school we didn't have 18 boats like we do now...we had 12 so everything has gotten bigger and better in that regard. The travel is also better...we go to better events and go to more events than we did before. Then finally there are more teams and more opportunities out there for sailing in college these days."
Since adding the Sailing Center four years ago what has been the immediate impact it has had on your program?
"It's made for more effective practices...that's the big thing. To be able to come off the water on a rainy day like today and go in and shower and change...especially in the winter is important. In February, we were able to sail and not miss a single practice all year. One of the reasons we're able to do that is because they have a warm place to get dressed and warm place to change after they're done...take a hot shower and before we didn't have that for them. It'd be 35 degrees out and they're stripping down to their long johns and bare feet on a cold cement floor outside. It's also upped the bar for other sailing programs out there, which is great for the sport in that other schools are improving their facilities as well saying we have to keep up with Old Dominion. Then it's definitely helped our summer program and physical education program in introducing sailing to more kids and adults out there. You want those newcomers to have a good experience and not have boats that are falling apart or bad facilities and this facility allows us to do that."
The ICSA Women's Championships will take place June 1-3 and ICSA Dinghy Championships will take place June 8-10. Here are the probable starters for the Monarchs in each event.