ICSA Womens Team Race Championship Awards-1ICSA Womens Team Race Championship Awards-1

Culture, Cameraderie, and Conviction: Stanford's Stellar 2024 Season

Stanford Sailing is primed for long-lasting success after claiming two more national titles in 2024


Written by Head Sailing Coach Chris Klevan

One evening in the Winter of 2021, the team met for an end of the season meeting.  It was my first semester as head coach, and I wanted to ensure a lackluster fall season would properly motivate the team to enter the spring season ready to make a run.  We had just finished both the women’s and the open ACCs with 4th place finishes—respectable, though, we were off the pace.

At this impromptu meeting, we discussed expectations and how the manifestations of your goals and subsequent shortcomings could dramatically alter the lens through which you see your world.  We also spoke about our team’s ultimate goal being improvement.  We voted on the first and only team created award our team has ever discussed; most improved. 

Many now-legends of Stanford sailing were there—Sammy Pickell, Mathew Hogan, Steph Houck, Jack Parkin, and Abby Tindall, among others—setting the tone for the team we were about to become.  And while many different people were mentioned as improvers over the course of my first season as head coach, Gwen Donahue and Hannah Freeman were, as I recall, mentioned most frequently. 

2024 - Ws Fleet Race Nationals - Awards-12

Now many years later, those two—both captains, both finalist for the top accolade in their two disciplines, both multi-time national champions—embody the spirit of this team.  It is hard not to think back to that meeting when considering how far both of them have come.  I wonder how much that critical junction changed our trajectory and influenced the vast improvements we have all made over that 30-month span. 

The group who is leaving the team behind has been through and overcome so much.  Those hardships and the responses mustered have made us the team we are today—a team poised to follow up two of the most successful years in program and college sailing history.  It is impossible to extricate the growth and success we’ve accomplished with the people who helped lay that foundation.  And every passing year, as these people move on to their lives outside college sailing, it is as critical as ever to acknowledge that this success did not happen overnight or automatically, not by osmosis or happenstance.  It was forged on the backs of those who came before this team and before the graduates we are celebrating.


The 2023–2024 season was one set up for failure.  It was a season living in the shadow of a historic year that could not be easily filed away.  But the team responded admirably and, despite the daunting encore, we managed to solidify our cause.  We walked the line between a team who was willing to establish itself as historically great repeat champions and a team building towards a lasting and enduring program. 

We sailed 38 regattas and walked away victorious in 23, including two national championships, the Women’s Team Race and Fleet Race titles, one national semi-final victory and seven PCCSC Championships.  We celebrated together twice as often as we did during that most historic season; yet, in reflection, the season was tinged with some disappointment.  True joy comes to those with no expectations.  And, for better or worse, this team expected a lot. 

I have always been a believer in the idea that how one does anything dictates how they will do everything.  To that end, we at Stanford Sailing try to employ a Stanford Sailing lifestyle.  Our day-to-day is meant to add up to the values and standards the team together determines to bind us to our end goals.  This way of thinking is meant to keep all of us with our heads down, focused only on the next race, the next pre-race plan, or starting routine, or speed test.  Using each puzzle piece to inform the next one.  The goal being only the perfect race. 



We constantly push our bodies to do more, we share meals, we discuss tactics and strategy, we test ourselves against the elements of the southern bay and, despite the warm water, we are challenged to expand the envelope holding our own expectations, limitations, and understanding of what is required to be great, and what is possible once we all commit to working towards those lofty goals together. 

So, at the end of the season, when we are meant to pick our heads up, it seems vaguely uncharacteristic.  As I look back at the season, it is hard not to see it as a great success.  We repeated as Women’s Fleet Race Champions; the first team to do so in the past decade.  We earned a crown as the most recent Women’s Team Race Champion, sporting a nearly perfect 18-1 record.  This is the greatest women’s team to ever push off the dock.

It has been a pleasure to coach this iteration of the team.  Those returning next year will be determined to return stronger, more equipped to face another year of the job.  I find myself looking forward to the next year before I have completely processed this one.  So, in that spirit, perhaps it is best to send-of those who have given four years or more to this team we all love.  Some of whom I met in 2019 as an assistant coach.  We were fortunate to be bolstered by four fifth year co-term students, class of 2023 executing on a year of eligibility lost to COVID unwilling yet to say goodbye. 

This is the greatest women’s team to ever push off the dock.

Chris KlevanHead Sailing Coach

This was a truly special class, clearly, as they made history their senior year and were so committed to the team, they were eager to return not yet totally satisfied.  Justin Lim helped show a new influx of new sailors what it means to enjoy the grind.  AnaClare Sole spent the fall season reminding everyone the joy that can be found sailing.  Trish Gerli helped the younger crews see how champions sail in the front of the boat and won a Wilson Trophy in the meantime, and Michelle Lahrkamp showed those who predicably look up to her that an abundance of accolades should not prevent anyone from giving their all. 

From the class of 2024, those who did not experience a normal season until their sophomore year emerged from the shadow of the incredible class above them to lead a new version of this championship team.  Co-captain Gwen Donahue showed everyone what it means to care about others first as she was named a finalist for crew of the year.  Co-captain, Hannah Freeman, retiring with a 62-8 record in National Championship team races was named a finalist for Quantum Women’s Sailor of the Year, Grace Austin returned from shoulder surgery to show those younger what toughness is, and a walk-on Lauren Taylor helped everyone remember that this experience is neither life nor death. 

Michelle leaves the team an 8-time All-American and four-time national champion.  I’m quite certain that has never been done before and will never be done again.  Her sister, Vanessa, should be satisfied as the 2024 Quantum Women’s sailor of the year, Ellie Harned is now a two-time All-American crew, Alice Schmid is following closely in her footsteps, an All-American herself.  And Thomas Sitzmann earned Open All-American Skipper status.  I’m sure assistant coaches Augie Dale and Shawn Harvey would be proud, respectively knowing the team will surely come back hungry despite the affirmation all the trophies and accolades carry. 

Ellie Harned and Luke Woodworth were named captains, and the future of the team is in good hands as the quality of a team’s leaders can make or break a season.  They both will be looking to improve when the opportunity returns for us. 

We will return next year without some individuals who defined our program for nearly a half-decade—Individuals who have shaped my coaching style and strategy as much as they have shaped Stanford Sailing.  For this reason, the transition period defining this most recent era of the Stanford Sailing team has now ended. The progress we have made towards sustained, unexceptional greatness must be further reinforced by those who have only known the values and standards defined by this exceptional graduating class.

Stanford sailing is more than a collection of trophies and successes. To be a member of our team means to be a part of something greater than just sailing—it is an experience that extends beyond the confines of campus and every sailor’s four years at Stanford; it is the pursuit of lofty goals and a journey shared with lifelong friends; it is learning the lesson that, when a team comes together around a common goal, something special can be discovered; it is being a part of a community of driven people prepared for the challenges sailing can teach us to overcome—a people measured, not by victories, but by how we respond to defeats.”
But reaching those milestones would not be possible without the support of our alumni and friends. The sail boats, the coach boats, and the opportunity to compete for national championships would be unattainable without you. The team and I are ever-grateful, motivated, and humbled by those who sailed before us, and the larger Stanford Sailing community helps shape the vision of what it means to sail at Stanford. Every day we chase the standard our supporters have set and continue to set through the support of our goals.

Stanford - On the water celebration photos-001