IllinoiSkating wins bid to Nationals after 11 years of team building, recruiting

Some students may dislike the winter season, but for members of the University of Illinois Synchronized Skating team, this weather is paradise.

Led by Head Coach Shawna Ludy, who is now in her second year with the team, IllinoiSkating is composed of 19 members from various years and majors who compete at the collegiate level.

This past weekend, the IllinoiSkating team won a bid to compete at Nationals in Boston on Mar. 2-4.

“We had the Midwestern sectionals competition in Michigan, where we competed with seven other teams: Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan, Miami of Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Adrian College,” Craig said. “The top six teams are selected to go to Nationals.”

Ludy said she is extremely proud of her team.

“The girls worked so hard to get to where we are now,” she said. “It was tough last year when we didn’t get a bid … We were able to let everyone develop their style as a team rather than individual skaters. (The bid) will definitely help put our name out there for more girls to get involved in the next year.”

University students Natalie Magiet and Carrie Rennemann created the team in 2001. Under the name Illini Edge, the team grew exponentially for the girls who wanted to continue their passion in college.

“Natalie and Carrie heard about synchronized skating and wanted to form a team,” said Suzanne Fong, senior in Education and president and team captain of the organization. “There wasn’t a coach because the organization was so new, but in 2005, we were able to get a full-time head coach and that’s when the organization really grew.”

Over the past years, the team not only changed its name, but also changed the competition levels each member can partake in.

Fong, who has been on the team since her freshman year, said the team made the biggest change last year.

“My freshman year was the first time we had two teams,” she said. “We had a collegiate team and a senior team, the latter of which is the highest division in synchronized skating. There are different moves requirements to be placed on either team. It was such an honor for U of I to form a senior team, and it was a dream come true for a lot of girls to compete at that level. Only the senior team gets to go to Nationals.”

This year, the team solely focuses on competing at the collegiate level.

“The organization is always growing,” Fong said. “But academics always come first, and since we have a lot of girls studying abroad, our coaches thought it would be best to move down and merge into one team. We’re still competing, but it’s more recreational.”

Brittany Craig, senior in LAS and vice president of the team, said 16 members skate for competitions, but each girl has the opportunity to participate.

“It’s great that we have such a diverse group of talented girls on our team,” Craig said. “We have skaters who have competed on nationally and internationally-ranked teams, but we also have girls who are ice dancers and those who have competed on the junior and senior level. We want to raise interest about the sport on campus.”

Katie Serota, freshman in LAS, knew she wanted to continue skating in college.

“I’ve been a single skater for a while, and this is my first time being on a competitive team,” she said. “It’s been a big transition, but it’s fun to learn a new side of the sport.”

Not everyone on the team has to be a University student.

“We actually have a girl on the team from Illinois State University,” Craig said. “You just have to be a full-time student to be on the team. She commutes for practice, and it just shows how dedicated she is to the sport and to be a part of our team.”

The team practices three days a week, with two hours of on-ice time and two hours of off-ice conditioning. More practices are held in preparation for competitions, which occur five times throughout the year.

In addition to competitions, the team also hosts fundraisers and social events, as well as hosting performances in the fall and spring and at select Illini Hockey games.

“We host two shows at the Ice Arena: a skate exhibition in the fall and a skate showcase in the spring,” Craig said.

The skaters also give back to the Champaign-Urbana community by hosting Learn-to-Skate programs for youth interested in the sport.

“The Learn-to-Skate programs are run through Campus Recreation, and we teach classes from basic skating skills to jumps and spins,” Craig said. “It’s a lot of fun to help the community become just as passionate about the sport as we are.”

For students who are interested in joining the team, IllinoiSkating hosts a prospective skaters’ day, in which students from 8th grade up to their senior year of high school can meet the coaches and skate with the team.

“The girls can learn some of the drills we use in practice and we’ll teach them choreography so they can work on the elements that are in the program,” Fong said. “It’s a great way to learn what IllinoiSkating is all about and get a feel for skating for a college team.”

When the stress of schoolwork gets in the way, Craig said she can depend on her teammates to make her feel better.

“For me, (being on the team is) kind of like a mini-sorority,” she said. “We’re such a tight-knit group of girls who can learn from each other, and since we’re so small, we can get to know them even better.”

That family-like feeling is something Alysia Mulcahy, freshman in Business, can relate to.

“I’m originally from Denver, and the girls have been so welcoming to me to help make my college experience so much better,” she said.

From the early morning workouts to working together to achieve goals, for the girls on IllinoiSkating, the opportunity to be a part of a team is the real winning factor.

“Skating has been my lifeline,” Craig said. “Both my mom and sister skated, and it is an environment I’m used to, so it was only natural to join the UI team. Being on the team has been a great learning experience. Everything was well worth it.”