Gaels golden at Invitational

Figure skaters rack up eight medals

The Gaels skated their way to the overall title at the Queen’s Invitational.
The Gaels skated their way to the overall title at the Queen’s Invitational.

The Queen’s figure skating team opened their season with a bang, dominating the competition at last Friday’s Queen’s Invitational en route to a 13-point victory over the second-place team from McGill.

According to the competition format, skaters compete in individual or pair freeskate and dance events to earn points for their placings that contribute to the team totals. Queen’s fared so well because of high results across the board.

Queen’s skaters medalled in eight of the 12 categories, including five first-place finishes, and the remaining team members all finished fifth or higher in the 11-skater events.

“I was very pleased with their performances,” said head coach Rhonda McKnight. “This was their first opportunity to perform their new routines in front of an audience and to get feedback from their peers, coaches and judges.”

That feedback was positive, McKnight said, adding that the relaxed team atmosphere at university-level figure skating competitions allows both coaches and skaters to communicate with rival clubs about developments and techniques.

The cheerful supportiveness of each team was palpable in Jock Harty Arena on Friday, as skaters from each of the 11 competing universities sat in the stands throughout the long day to cheer each other on.

Nita Guron and Allison Rodrigues kicked off what was to be a very successful day for Queen’s by winning the Junior Silver Similar Dance event. Their victory was followed in quick succession by a bronze medal-winning performance by Laura Keating in the Gold Solo Dance, and another title win by Guron in the Senior Silver Solo Dance.

Katie Coens and Rachel Hunt glided to glory with a victory in the next event, the Senior Similar Pair, and Justin O’Shaughnessy followed their lead by winning gold in Men’s Singles.

Keating went on to strike gold in the Senior Silver Similar Dance with partner Jamie Stuckless, and the medal haul was rounded out by bronze medals wins in Dance Variation by Kimberley Hord and Katie Phillips, and in the Short Programme by Allison Millen.

Andrea Buzinski, Nadia Charania and Caitlin McNevin rounded out the successful Queen’s showing with fourth and fifth-place finishes.

Though the 17-member team boasts six rookies, the new members appear to have fit right into the University’s winning ways. Queen’s has won the OUA overall title nine times in the last 11 years, and as the weekend’s results suggest, this year’s squad looks on track to continue the trend of victory.

Western, the last team other than Queen’s to capture the OUA championship, tied for third with Brock University at Friday’s event.

McKnight said she thinks the Queen’s success is self-supporting—dedicated skaters who are leaving high school look on the Internet at results, she said, and end up coming to Queen’s to skate.

“I think there are a lot of girls who have heard of the team and ... [who] have a love for the sport, and so when they leave high school they want to stay in the sport, and they come to Queen’s to skate,” McKnight said. “The Queen’s figure skating team has a reputation for being hard workers and overachievers.”

But they aren’t letting success distract them from their game plan. Despite the long string of victories, McKnight said her team isn’t focused on winning banners, but instead on reaching individual goals.

“The main thing is to always skate to the best of your abilities, and not to focus on the win,” she said. “Of course we want to win the banner, but that’s not our drive. The drive behind the team is the will to work to win.”

She said the skaters each set their own goals with team psychologist Johnny Yap, who has been with the Gaels for 25 years.

“We’re very lucky to have him,” McKnight said. “The girls love him, and it really does show.”

Preparation like the mental work with Yap is central to this team’s ethos. Working in a sport where anything can happen on the day of the competition, McKnight said thorough physical and mental readiness is a key part of their strategy.

“It’s preparation, including the on-ice training and the supportiveness of the whole team,” she said. “In that respect they’re ready, but you never know what’s going to happen on the day of.”

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