“We’re definitely rebuilding,” said junior co-captain Molly Clark of the women’s synchronized swimming team. “When I was a freshman there were only eight members. By sophomore year there were 13, and this year there are 24 girls swimming for us.”
Women’s synchronized swimming was actually the first varsity women’s sport at Michigan, but it was discontinued because of budget issues back in the 1980s. It was renewed as a club sport four years ago with five charter members.
“It’s really great to have this many girls swimming for us, because it lets us perform a lot more routines at each competition,” Clark said.
Another thing that helps the team perform well against varsity teams is its intense practice schedule. They work out at Canham Natatorium three times a week for two-and-a-half to three hours per practice. Players also spend a lot of time outside of scheduled practices meeting with each of their separate routines, working on synchronization and choreography. Much of this work is done through a technique called land drilling, in which the major elements of each routine are done on land.
“Practice is essential to our team,” Clark said. “A three-to four-minute routine takes about three to four months to perfect. And routines are only one part of the competitions.”
The other major part of a synchronized swimming meet is figures. In this event, each team member is alone in the pool and performs four separate elements for the judges. The scores from their figures are contributed to the team’s overall score, which determines the places of each team at meet’s end.
This year, the team attended six different regular season meets in places such as Arizona and upstate New York.
“The best meet for us as a team was our dual meet with Ohio State, because their swimmers worked with each of our swimmers, one-on-one, before the competition,” Clark said. “The Ohio State team is a really serious advocate of our team, because they really want to see Big Ten synchro prosper.”
Having Ohio State help out was a major boost, as Ohio State was the reigning national champion and has consistently been at the top of the competitive field.
“They’ve been national champs for years, so it’s really great to have support from a team like that,” Clark said.
“It was really amazing just to be there with teams like Ohio State and Stanford,” Clark said. “And we’re hosting nationals next year, so it’s going to be even better. It involves a lot of summer work, but when 300 synchronized swimmers invade Ann Arbor next March it will be worth it.”
Having the national championship – which rotates regions every year – in Ann Arbor will bring 20 to 30 teams here, which definitely excites the team.
Before nationals take place, the Wolverines will have to get through their regular season. They start the year with a clinic in September, where they teach any interested ladies all of the basics of synchronized swimming. That is followed by tryouts in October, where the separate teams will be formed.
The team’s three coaches – Becky Domegan, Stephanie Sherk and Sheri Shapiro – are considering splitting next year’s team into a competition team of the 20 most talented ladies, and then an exhibition team of all of the other girls who are still learning. A major tenet of the program is offering the opportunity to anyone who wants to participate.
All three coaches were previous members of the team, so they already knew a lot about the program coming in and have offered a wealth of useful guidance.
“They care a lot about the program,” Clark said. “They spend hours upon hours of time devoting themselves to making our team experience better. We just wish we had more money to offer them as salary.”
The team does a lot of fundraising, because the costs of traveling amount to around $ 10,000 every year.
“Stuff like that really brings us together though,” Clark said. “We bond over fundraising and getting up early for Sunday practices. I know that I’ve made friends on this team that will last for a lifetime.”