Local skaters getting in synch for winter competitions

[attach]7324[/attach]On the ice at Leaside Gardens, a group of 12– 15-year-old girls is putting the finishing touches on a difficult, yet beautiful, routine.

This collection of 16 novice skaters is one of four competitive squads run by Leaside Synergy, the city’s largest synchronized skating club. Fielding elementary, juvenile, novice and junior squads, totalling some 80 girls, the club competes in regional and national meets organized by Skate Canada.

The novice team was national runner-up last year in the Skate Canada synchronized skating championships in Calgary.

Its junior counterpart finished fourth.

Both novice and junior teams opened this season by placing second at the Bill Phillips Invitational in Stratford on Dec. 15. With practice now in full swing, each squad is looking to refine its free and short programs as winter competitions get under way.

Winterfest, which brings together regional clubs from the Greater Toronto Area, is scheduled for Jan. 10.

As the only synchronized skating organization in Toronto with four age group teams, girls come from far and wide to skate with the team. For Hannah Coyle-Asbil, a Leaside High School student and junior team member, it’s a chance to train in a high-performance atmosphere and meet girls from across the GTA.

“It definitely offers a more competitive aspect because we have a lot more competitive teams,” said Coyle-Asbil, who is also a competitive runner. “It offers skaters a chance to come and improve their endurance.”

In practice at Leaside Gardens, the novice team is not wasting time. Coach Meredith Tutching has little ice time to refine technique and is stern, yet enthusiastic, in her approach. The ice is like a choreography studio as girls work on posture and putting oomph into their moves.

“Keep your elbows up!” Tutching shouted in one instance, as the girls pounded their fists in synch with piped-in music.

Despite the strict tone of the practice, the team is all smiles and the skaters exhibit respect for the coaches. Teammates share a joke between reps. A girl falls on her bottom, but chuckles.

For 13-year-old Emma Kim, a novice member who was part of last year’s national silver medal team, the teamwork and camaraderie encourages a productive atmosphere.

“It thrives on independence,” says Kim, who joined the club when she was 9. “You want to help your teammates do the best they can by doing it individually.

“You can’t let anyone down. You try your best for each other. It’s not just completely self-motivated. You’re a team, you’re a family.”

The Synergy club is ready for the road ahead. To Kim, who has become a leader on the team, the novice team is better this year.

“Each year is getting a little better,” Kim remarked.