By Dorothy Bliskey
Gliding on ice to reach the top has been a “synchronized” effort for a group of girls involved in the Beaver Dam Swan City synchronized skating program. In recent years they’ve skated their way to a national caliber level after working diligently as a small town recreational group.
In January of 2013, for the first time in the rink’s history, the SwanSyncSation Novice synchronized skating team qualified for national competition by earning a bronze at the Midwest sectionals. In January of 2014, for the second year in a row, the team again qualified and competed on the national level.
It’s quite an accomplishment for a team from a city with a population less than 20,000 – especially since they compete against teams from much larger cities like Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis.
Several skaters have graduated from the team and continue to skate on the college level, with two currently skating on UW Madison’s synchronized team and two others at Adrian College.
Their coach, Lisa Henning, has the inside corner on their secret to success. “They are very self-disciplined, hard-working girls who are extremely creative and often contribute to the choreography,” Henning said, noting their ages range from 12-17. “On top of that, the girls are very intelligent, competitive, and they expect excellence in all they do. The support they get from a great caring club, committee and especially a great set of parents is also crucial.”
“The group of girls who competed at nationals two years in a row is a dream team for the younger skaters,” Henning added.
“They are a fantastic group of girls who are kind and will tell anyone that their skating team is their second family,” said Diane Moore, a parent who serves as a member of the Synchronized Skating Committee.
Another parent, Jenny Poetter (who is also chair of the synchronized skating committee) says the team, which includes her daughter Maddie, is close because they spend so much time together. “This closeness has helped them rise to the top. It’s not an easy sport but it has taught my daughter that, with hard work, you can achieve your goals.”
Learning to juggle their time and set priorities are just some of the important life lessons the girls learn through the sport. Practice time on the ice can total 10 or more hours per week. The majority of the girls are involved in multiple sports, hold part-time jobs, score high academically and have lofty college and career goals.
Henning oversees the entire synchronized skating program and works with a synchronized skating committee and the Swan City Ice Skaters (SCIS) board. “I work with all the teams when necessary but my primary focus is with the International Judging System (IJS) teams which are qualifying levels that advance to nationals and beyond.”
In addition to coaching the sport of synchronized skating in Beaver Dam, Henning is co-coaching the UW-Madison Badger Synchronized Skating Team where two of her former Beaver Dam students now skate. Megan Moore, a sophomore, and Shala Brehn, a junior, both skate for the Badgers. Former Beaver Dam skater, Madeline Sena, is a sophomore who skates at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan where she is leaning toward a mathematics-based degree.
“I learned so many life skills from skating,” Sena said, noting the highlight during her skating years in Beaver Dam was attaining national level status. “We were the first team in the history of our club to go to Nationals. It was incredible to see all of our hard work finally pay off.”
At Adrian College, one of only two U.S. colleges to offer synchronized skating as a varsity sport, Sena is her team’s captain. “U.S. Figure Skating awards the international assignments based on how well you do at Nationals,” Sena explains. “It is our team’s goal to earn an international assignment.”
Megan Moore, who skates with the Badger synchronized team at UW Madison, is fortunate in that her former Beaver Dam coach, Lisa Henning, helps coach her college team. The positive experience Moore had skating in Beaver Dam followed her to Madison. “I just couldn’t give the sport up,” Moore said, noting she’s studying for a career in physical therapy. “I’ve been skating for 15 years and it’s almost become my entire life. I also wanted to be able to represent my college and make this large campus smaller with a group of 19 girls that I would already know.”
Synchronized skating which began in Beaver Dam in the 1980s, is a team sport that showcases 8-20 skaters performing a skating program in unison. “It uses the same judging system as singles, pairs and ice dance and is characterized by teamwork, speed, intricate formations and challenging step sequences,” Henning explains. “There are 15 different levels within synchronized skating in the United States from beginner to intermediate to senior level which competes at World Championships. There are also adult and collegiate levels.”
Coach Henning says most skaters are testing in all three skating disciplines: moves in the field (which are edges, turns and field moves); freeskating (jumping and spinning) and ice dancing (learning dances with various beats with a partner). “Once a skater completes testing in any of these disciplines they are considered a ‘gold medalist’ in that discipline.”
Henning’s hope is that synchronized skating will soon be an Olympic sport. “Just this year the process has begun to include synchronized skating in the 2018 Olympic games. If the International Olympic Committee doesn’t accept it, at least it will start the fact-finding process.”
Meanwhile, Henning has set high goals for her team which includes skaters from the surrounding area and beyond – as far away as Waunakee, Madison and Milwaukee. “This year we are going for our first national medal. In the future, we’d like to begin fielding junior and senior teams to make it to international competition.”
Who knows, a skater who began in Beaver Dam just might be on the ice at the Olympics someday.
Comments from the skaters
By Dorothy Bliskey
Several girls on Beaver Dam’s synchronized skating teams sent back comments on their experiences with the sport – the most exciting times, what they’ve learned or why they enjoy participating. Following is a sampling of the feedback:
“One of the most exciting times on the team was competing nationally against teams from across the country and placing 6th in the Nation and 2nd in the Midwest. These competitions have given us the opportunity to meet Olympic skaters including Jason Brown who we met this year! – Kaitlyn Moore, age 17, Fox Lake
“As a member of the team – it’s like we are all sisters. I love our bus rides to competitions and being able to share the same love for the sport. The most exciting thing was making it to nationals two years in a row!” Mikayla Haag, 18, Beaver Dam
“We’re such a little club from a little town that has to go against clubs like the Dazzlers and Chicago Jazz where they have many girls to pick from. We work extremely hard to be at the same level as the bigger clubs and it has paid off. We’ve proved that you can’t just overlook us.” – Taylor Brown, 17, Waupun
“I enjoy being able to skate with the older girls on my team and learn from them. They are all great skaters, teachers and friends. We are all motivated to practice hard and do the best we can at competitions.” – Allison Moore, 12, Fox Lake
“Skating challenges me intellectually because you have to be able to learn and remember many different combinations of skills. You have to be flexible because sometimes your position in the program changes and you need to learn new skills. This makes me a better skater, but I think it helps me adjust to changes that happen in life.” – Madeline Sena, 19, Adrian College student/skater from Beaver Dam
“Being on a team creates an atmosphere different than just solo skating. As a team, you have someone to share your feelings with — whether it’s the excitement after competing or the anxiety just before stepping on the ice. As for the skating itself, in a group you get to move extremely fast! It’s the power of 16 girls combined, so you can reach speeds greater than any single skater. – Shala Brehm, 20, UW-Madison student /skater from Beaver Dam
“Skating has definitely taught me not to give up. Even when you find you can’t land a jump or you can’t get that spin just right, you keep working on it. Skating has also taught me that you can have fun while working hard! – Alexis Schmitt, 18, Adrian College student/skater from Waupun
Photographer for the team picture Nate Olson
Cover Photo by Angela Sailer
Back row: Katie Puetz, Mikayla Haag, Kaitlyn Moore, Taylor Brown, Natalie Krogull
Next row: Marisa Heinzel, Alana Rucks, Skyler Olson, Anna Swenson, Megan Okon, Melanie Waterworth
Next row: Coach – Karen Rucks, Desi Stehling, Matreya Schellpfeffer, Payton VandeZande, Maddy Schonitzer, Erika Priewe, Jessie Neuman, Mickayla Wercinski-Frank
Next row: Madeline Biel, Sarah Clark, Ally Moore, Natalie Robb, Morgan Schelter, Coach – Lisa Henning