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Tuson-Turner leads Wahine into national sailing semifinals

By Ann Miller

LAST UPDATED: 10:29 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

It might not conjure up the same warm, windblown thoughts as Hawaii sailing, but when you see Hannah Tuson-Turner graduated from Orcas Island High School in Washington, her sailing cred goes straight up.

Her talent has soared in the same direction since she got to the University of Hawaii. Two weeks ago she earned All-Pacific Coast Collegiate Sailing Conference honors for the fourth time. Tomorrow, she leads the Rainbow Wahine to their 12th national appearance in 14 years at the ICSA Women's National Semifinals in Cascade Locks, Ore.

Hawaii won the 2004 coed national championship at the same site, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Three years earlier, the Wahine won UH sailing's first national title in Boston.

After getting shut out in the semifinals last year — the wind never picked up in Wisconsin, canceling the first two days and leaving Hawaii out of the final two — this Wahine team is focused solely on getting to Wednesday. Tuson-Turner leads the charge in almost every imaginable way.

"She's got great passion, good fire," UH coach Andy Johnson says of his A Division skipper. "She is a really intense competitor. She gets out there and she doesn't want to lose a race. We've been trying to work on that a little to tone it down so she will have better focus."

The intensity eases on dry land. Tuson-Turner is soft-spoken and, at 5 foot 4, unimposing. She picked up sailing in grammar school when a friend asked her to come along to a class. Tuson-Turner got hooked.

"I just didn't leave, and after a while they said if you're going to keep coming you can just help us and don't pay for the class," Tuson-Turner recalls. "I said OK, I'll just keep showing up. That program I ended up helping to run."

The appeal went beyond the competition. Tuson-Turner misses teaching 10-year-olds.

"It was just so fun to be out on the water all the time, especially as a kid," she says. "It's a really unique thing to give a little kid their own boat, tell them, ‘You can have control of it, I trust you and I'm going to let you do your own thing.'

"The race thing is definitely the most fun and competitive, but teaching and being out there with the kids is a big part of it for me. I haven't done it in a while and I miss it, miss seeing peoples' faces light up like that and coming back to it."

Last year, Tuson-Turner helped UH's coed team reach its first nationals since 2005. This year, she hopes to go out with a bang, in front of her parents, instead of the whimper of last year's windless championship. The Wahine were in Wisconsin 10 days and sailed two races before semifinals were scrubbed. Their third-place PCCSC finish kept them out of the final round, which brings together the top nine from semifinals and the nine automatic qualifiers.

Tuson-Turner was disappointed in Hawaii's runner-up finish to Stanford at this year's PCCSC Championship and refuses to look beyond the first race in the Columbia Gorge. Johnson's vision is more wide-ranging, with freshman B skipper Madeline Kennedy in the midst of a great spring and a team he calls "very solid."

"Our first goal is to make it to finals and be able to survive four days straight," he says. "A really good goal for the team would be to try to be in the top seven in the country. If you are able to be in the game, meaning top seven in the country, then if things fall for you just right you have a chance to win it all. The year we did win, that's pretty much what happened. We just kept ourselves in it and the breaks came our way."

Molly O'Bryan Vandemoer, who won the 2002 Jack Bonham Award as UH's best female athlete, is making a bid for the Olympics a decade later, in the new women's match racing event. O'Bryan led UH to the 2001 national championship. She was a three-time All-American.

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