Synchronized skaters debut new ‘Collegiate’ program in Michigan
Liberty University’s synchronized skating team called up junior alternate Jamie Gordon, also a member of the figure skating team, to fill in for a skater quarantined by COVID contact, enabling the Lady Flames to travel to Saturday’s Dr. Porter Synchronized Skating Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., with a 12-skater team, the minimum required to compete at the “Collegiate” level.
In November, the weekend before Thanksgiving, the team had to skip its season-opening Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kick-Off due to one of its skaters being sidelined by a concussion and another out sick.
Competing in an event that attracted more than 1,000 synchronized skaters, the Lady Flames placed 11th with a score of 40.13, which Liberty second-year Head Coach Emily Hughes said left plenty of room for improvement in the spring semester.
“It was great to get back to competing in-person, as it has been about two years since the team has been able to do that,” she said. “It was a pretty tough competition, so it was really just a great learning experience for the team. We have nine underclassmen on a team of 12, so our main goal was to be able to travel and get that experience under our belt.”
After skating in the “Collegiate Open” division last season, when the Lady Flames only had virtual competitions, it was a big jump to return to “Collegiate” competition, which features International Judging System (IJS) judging.
“Our score was definitely lower than where we were a couple years ago,” Hughes said. “This year, we are focusing on rebuilding our program to get back to where we were. We have definitely experienced a lot of setbacks this season with COVID and injuries. For the first few months, we didn’t even have a practice with a full roster.”
She said that has only given her skaters more determination and incentive to sharpen their skills leading up to the Jan. 29 Eastern Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships in Norwood, Mass., which will be the Lady Flames’ last competition before the March 5 USA Synchronized Skating Collegiate National Championships in Colorado Springs.
The Lady Flames’ routine is expressive, set to a medley of “Bird Set Free” by Sia and “Battle Scars” by Guy Sebastian and Lupe Fiasco.
“I was proud of the girls, that they were able to get out there and put a program out in front of the judges,” Hughes said. “It definitely wasn’t perfect and we know that, but we are using that as a learning experience and a baseline. Our hope is that it will give them motivation to work hard, and we’re thankful for that.
“Now that everyone’s at a healthier place, we hope to have better attendance at practices in the spring semester to get that repetition in needed to improve our score,” she added. “We are going to implement some changes based off of feedback we received (from judges) over weekend and based on our scores, and those should lead to better results.”
She said another positive takeaway from the team’s first road trip was the bonding experience.
“The team is getting along really well,” Hughes said, noting team captains Jacalyn Hagar, a sophomore, and junior Alecia Bernau have helped take many of the newcomers under their wings. “The younger girls feel very connected with the team and getting on the road and traveling together to their first competition only enhanced the unity they have within the team.”
Besides riding together on a parade float over Homecoming Weekend in October and sharing a Thanksgiving dinner in November, the synchronized skating team has also bonded with the Lady Flames’ figure skating team while fulfilling Christian/Community Service (CSER) hours through the Learn To Skate program, training younger skaters in the community on Wednesday mornings and Sunday afternoons at the LIC. They enjoyed a joint Christmas party on Tuesday.
Hughes said the relationship with the figure skating team has benefited both programs.
“Ten girls out of the 12 are also on the figure skating team, so that definitely allows them to become more well-rounded skaters, focusing on their individual skills and routines in figure skating,” Hughes said. “It is beneficial to them that they get to practice with both teams.”
They will both contribute performances to the annual “PraiseFest on Ice,” most likely in April.
“That will be our last opportunity to perform the program we have worked with for the season, as a send-off to close out of the year,” Hughes said.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer