PORTLAND — The sailing team at Portland High School for the first time has a spot in the invitational Atlantic Coast Championships this weekend at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

The Interscholastic Sailing Association event “is a nationals regatta with teams qualifying from all across the country, so it’s a pretty prestigious event,” coach Sam Scribner said. “This will be the first time PHS has qualified for the ACCs. This is one of the biggest regattas we’ve ever qualified for, (so) it’s super exciting for the team, and we’re all really proud of the sailing they did to get here.”

To get to the ACCs, the Portland High team, which includes students from Casco Bay High School, went head-to-head against some of the best private and public high school sailing programs in the Northeast.

The team from Portland won its spot at the ACCs in the final race of the Arnold Brown Regatta, which took place in Martha’s Vineyard Sept. 29.

The regatta hinged on a tie-breaker in the last of 12 races for the day. It all came down to the boat skippered by freshman Eva Ermlich.

Ermlich, 14, this week said she had no idea that her race would decide whether the team from Portland made it to the ACCs. “I didn’t know that it would all be down to me,” she said. “I just tried to do my best.”

She said the wind wasn’t cooperating, so all the boats were going fairly slowly.

“I could tell we were ahead as we came into the final part of the course,” Ermlich said. Even on the docks after her win, she said she and her fellow sailors didn’t know what was happening.

She said they could tell that the coaches were excited about something, but “we didn’t know for several minutes that the fact we might win was a real possibility.” She called the win “very much a team effort and a big collaboration.”

“We knew it was close going into their last set,” Scribner said. “But I try to keep the sailors focused on their races instead of the scores. It was a very exciting race with a couple lead changes and some real nail-biting moments, ending with a win by a significant margin. It was some really great sailing by our sailors.”

Scribner said what made the win even better was that Ermlich was not originally scheduled to race. “Eva actually took over for another sailor who was hurt in the first set,” he said.

“Though the regatta came down to this last race, it really is a team sport as the scores of the A and B division are added together to get a final score and place for each school,” he said. “Also, each boat has two sailors and the second person is equally important and has lots of jobs in the boat, so the final result really is a team effort.”

Scribner said the team consists of 16 members and “we’re a younger team right now with lots of underclassmen so it’s an energetic and fun group.” He said Portland High has fielded a sailing team for the past dozen years or so, but winning the regional regatta and earning a spot in the ACCs is a real step up.

“I’m not sure how many school groups at PHS have made it to national level meets, but it can’t be very many,” he said.

Ermlich has been involved in sailing since the age of 8, when her parents signed her up for a summer camp experience with Sail Maine.

“Sailing is one of my favorite things to do,” she said. “Sailing just comes naturally to me and I love the ocean. I love to be out on the water and I’m very competitive and like to test my limits against other people.”

Ermlich said sailing “involves a lot of tactics” and credits her success on the Portland High team to a racing camp she attended this past summer.

“We knew going in that we didn’t have a lot of experience and that we would be a small team in a really hard competition,” she said of the qualifying regatta. “Really, I think all of us would have been happy either way because we did really well in general.”

Still, she admits to being “beyond excited” about the prospect of competing in the ACCs this weekend.

The other members of the Portland High team that competed at the qualifying regatta were Hal Clews, Lucy Kilbreth, Gavin Sanborn and Jondal Norris.

“They’re a super-enthusiastic, motivated, and, most importantly, sportsmanlike group of kids and it’s an absolute blast to coach them,” Scribner said of the entire team. “It’s great to bring them to a regatta knowing they’ll conduct themselves honorably on the water.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Members of the sailing team at Portland High School practicing on Casco Bay this fall. The team has qualified to take part in the prestigious Atlantic Coast Championship regatta in Maryland this coming weekend.

The sailing team from Portland High School was all smiles after winning the Arnold Brown Regatta Sept. 29 in Martha’s Vineyard. The team qualified for this weekend’s Atlantic Coast Championship in Annapolis, Maryland. Pictured, from left, are Coach Sam Scribner and team members Jondall Norris, Eva Ermlich, Lucy Kilbreth, and Hal Clews. In front is Gavin Sanborn.

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