Gaels skate to third straight title

The third time was a charm for the Queen’s figure skating team at last weekend’s OUA championships—but then again, the first and second times were pretty charmed too.

The Gaels completed a banner-winning hat trick at Brock University, picking up their third OUA title in as many years. Queen’s has become something of a powerhouse on the OUA figure skating scene, winning nine out of the last 11 overall titles, and this year’s edition was no exception.

The Gaels picked up nine medals—four golds, four silvers and one bronze—at the weekend-long championships. With each podium placement contributing points to the team total, that hardware secured the banner for Queen’s with 85 points.

“I was very proud of our performances, everybody skated great,” Gael co-captain Rachel Coens said. “There were a lot of personal bests, so everyone was happy.”

The steadily improving team from McGill, which has crept up in the OUA rankings over the year, finished second overall with 80 points. The Western Mustangs—the only team other than Queen’s to capture the OUA banner in the last 11 years—secured third place with 73 points.

The host team from Brock, another rising power, surprised everyone by finishing a lowly sixth overall—out of 13 teams—after their victory earlier this month at the Ryerson Invitational.

The Badgers’ drop is indicative of one of the central difficulties in figure skating—namely, performing programs that are both technically difficult and artistically appealing. While the physicality and technical toughness of the elements can be standardized, aesthetic preferences are harder to pin down.

“We were all kind of surprised [at Brock’s showing],” Coens said. “They still gave decent performances, but maybe the judging was different? I don’t know.”

But the Gaels proved that consistency is possible, both within their decade-long dominance and this year’s stellar season.

At the championships, two medal-winning skates by Nita Guron showcased the consistently high calibre of the Queen’s skaters. Guron finished first with partner Allison Rodrigues in the Junior Silver Similar Dance event and second in Senior Silver Solo Dance. She had been a force to be reckoned with all season long, gliding to gold in both categories at November’s Queen’s Invitational and at Ryerson.

The double gold medal-winning performances by Jamie Stuckless and Laura Keating were another highlight for the Gaels. The pair captured the top spot in the Senior Silver Similar Dance event—despite having to skate a dance they hadn’t practiced in more than a year, due to a miscommunication between the team and the OUA. They were also half of the foursome, along with Janel Young and Casey Baldovin, that won gold in Bronze Rhythm.

“[Stuckless and Keating] just went out and attacked, and they won both dances,” Coens said of the paso doble and starlight waltz skated by the pair.

She pointed to the bronze-medal-winning skate delivered by Andrea Buzinzki in the Long Program event as another of the key performances for Queen’s.

“She had an amazing program, a clean skate,” Coens said. “She peaked at just the right time.”

The Gaels’ goal overall, heading into this high-pressure, winner-take-all final competition, was for each skater to do just that. They stuck to the traditions that have served them so well in the past, and to what Coens called the “unity and synergy built in the team throughout the year,” in order to rise above the pressure heaped on them as they looked to three-peat.

“Going into the competition, we weren’t worried about the banner—we just wanted to skate our best and improve,” Coens said. “We find the more pressure [there is], the more we stick with what we know. We keep a very structured environment so [the Queen’s skaters] know what to expect.”

The synchronized skating event—the last of the weekend, and the one worth the most points—proved to be the Gaels’ toughest test. McGill was five points ahead going into that skate.

We had to place [on the podium] to beat them, and we all knew that,” Coens said. “[I felt some] nervousness and anxiousness, but mostly we just focused on going out and attacking.”

And attack they did, skating their way to the requisite silver medal and the banner win. Queen’s placed well in the synchro event despite a few falls, Coens said, because their program is so technically difficult.

She added that the event is key because it puts the pressure not on individuals—as is typical of the sport outside of university competition—but on the team performance in the synchro routine, and so this tight-knit group could handle it together.

“The emphasis is on the team event at the end, so whatever [points] you get in your own event is great,” Coens said. “The team part [makes the individual skates] much easier, because you know they’re behind you.”

Coens was named an OUA All-Star, along with Baldovin, Hunt, Keating, Stuckless and Young, while Cathryn Schroeder and Nadia Charania captured the Gaels’ remaining medals. All of those skaters will be eligible to return next year, but Coens said the composition of the team will depend on new arrivals looking to lace up for the Gaels.

“We don’t have a lot of grads, but there could be a lot of good people coming up next year,” Coens said. “Whatever happens, they’ll keep up the traditions.”

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