Last season, the Ice Dreams elementary synchronized skating team won the gold medal at the regionals, the biggest competition of the year.
It was a huge accomplishment and represented great success for the small, local group affiliated with the East York Skating Club.
Better still, it also helped to keep the team together.
In previous years, skaters left Ice Dreams for bigger clubs, as they sought to move forward in their synchro skating careers.
Not this season.
Instead, they decided to move the team up to the juvenile level, a decision that kept the skaters together and marks the first time Ice Dreams has had a juvenile team in years.
“We really pressed for it,” said Peter Saikali, father of 11-year-old Nicola, the senior member of the team. “It made sense because we kept losing skaters to another club and I think that as you get older, to skate on a team it’s tougher because you keep losing friends and then you’ve got to almost start over again.”
Now, he says, the set-up is great because all 15 skaters on the juvenile team were also together last year.
“I think I might have stopped doing synchro if they didn’t have a juvenile team because I’ve done elementary for three years,” says fourth-year member Nicola before taking to the ice at the East York Memorial Arena for practice.
This year, Ice Dreams is fielding two teams, an elementary and a juvenile team. All skaters are girls aged seven through 12.
For Rachael Miles, who is entering her third year with the club, having a juvenile team at East York meant being able to continue skating with her friends.
“I wanted to stay here because all my friends are here,” said the 12-year-old. “I know the people here, rather than going somewhere else where I don’t know anyone.”
But the move up to juvenile from elementary means more than just staying together as a team, it also means learning more advanced skills. Diane Fukushima, one of the coaches at Ice Dreams, says there is a big difference between the two levels.
“There is a big jump, I find. Technically there’s more they need to be able to do,” she said. “They need to be able to skate faster. It’s more like a two-level jump than just a single level to me.
“They go from doing nothing – no difficult turns – to doing difficult turns in different maneuvers.”
According to the rules, the team wasn’t allowed to do any advanced moves in elementary. Instead, success was based on doing the basic skills very well. Now, they’re expected to do much more difficult elements.
“It helps a lot that they don’t have to learn to skate with new kids,” Fukushima says. “That’s probably why they’re ahead from where they were last year.”
From his vantage point in the stands, Saikali agrees as the girls move around the rink in perfect formation, smoothly skating backwards in lines matched up by height and connected by their hands on each other’s shoulders.
“There’s an incredible chemistry,” he says. “I even see a significant improvement in where they are now versus where they were last year at the same time doing more difficult maneuvers.”
That chemistry led to the team medaling at each competition they attended last season. The girls also won the 2010 Ontario Regional Synchronized Skating Championships, something they won’t forget anytime soon.
“It was so awesome,” said Nicola. “Nobody told us that we were really good or anything, so when we won we weren’t really expecting to win. And then when we won everyone was like ‘Weeeee!’ Everyone was really excited and happy.”
Because of this season’s level advancement, nobody quite knows what to expect in terms of results. Fukushima believes if the team can just become proficient in the new skills they have to perform, she would consider it a success.
“Because they have more difficult things they have to do this year, far more difficult than last year, if they can just master that they would be successful,” she said. “Whether that translates to medals or placements, I’m not sure.”
Fukushima says the goal is for the team to learn its new routine by the end of October and to master it by December, when competitions begin.