Unlike most varsity teams who have a common background of playing their sport in high school, members of Iced Brew come from a wide range of skill levels. Freshman Drury McAlarney, for example, was a semi-professional dancer before coming to Vassar but had no experience skating. “It was kind of funny at the beginning of the year,” he wrote in an emailed statement. “[W]e’d go over some part of the routine and Lauren (the captain) would ask ‘any questions?’ and I’d say ‘yeah, how do you skate?’”
He does note that there are some similarities between synchronized skating and dancing, which is why he enjoys Iced Brew. “[S]ynchro skating is kind of like dancing on steroids: you have all the fun of dancing with the added thrill of flying across the ice. I also really like being part of a team: I’m not athletic and don’t really do sports, so I’ve never been on a team like this before.”
McAlarney’s teammate and captain, senior Lauren Chin, had a more extensive background in skating before joining Iced Brew. A competitive skater since the age of eight, Chin became a certified figure skating instructor in high school. She understands that Iced Brew has a variety of ability levels, but knows that this does not put her team at a disadvantage. “The best synchronized skater is not always the most advanced skater, but one who is conscientious of his/her surrounding teammates and can make sure they remain in sync on the ice,” she notes. “The sport is not about the individual, but what the team can accomplish together.”
In order for rookies to learn from more experienced skaters, the team meets weekly for three hours to practice. The first hour consists of off-ice practicing to develop the routine and perfect their timing. The team then travels to the McCann Arena to practice on the ice. Members who were new to skating started the year working on the fundamentals, but were able to perform the routines alongside the other skaters as the season progressed. “It’s kind of crazy to think I can actually perform the routine now,” McAlarney commented.
The team also relies on the advice of their coach, Deirdre Bonanno. She has worked with Iced Brew for the past six years, and has enjoyed doing so. “My commitment is to the entire team, I consider them my second family,” she noted. “I make sure all members are in synch with each other.”
Since Iced Brew is not a varsity sport, they receive limited funds from the College. This means they must cover the remainder of the costs of the team on their own, including registration fees for competitions and transportation. To do this the team had bake sales, thus tabling in the retreat is another commitment for members.
But more important than finance is the cohesive nature of the team. Its members represent all four class years, and a wide geographic background. Yet this manages to work in their favor, Chin argues. “It surprises me how little we have in common yet how much fun we have together. But that’s the great thing about Iced Brew-our passion for skating brings us all together.”
For McAlarney the togetherness also allows the team’s focus to be on improvement rather than perfection. “I really like that the emphasis is really on enjoying skating and improving ourselves rather than the competitions…even though we do compete and we do try to do well…I think everyone on the team is there to have a good time rather than because we feel the need to win medals.”
Chin agrees and recognizes that the group must have faith in each other to be able to skate well. “Camaraderie is the most rewarding aspect of a synchronized skating team,” she notes. “Everyone is required to trust their teammates while we skate from formation to formation at a speedy pace and must remain connected throughout the majority of our moves.”
The end of Iced Brew’s season was for both Chin and McAlarney the highlight. The team qualified to compete in Easterns Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships on February 2. Though they did not place, Chin feels the day was certainly noteworthy. “Easterns was a great success, and was a personal best for the team,” she comments. “ We have made significant progress since the beginning of the year and made many changes to our program to showcase our advancement while challenging our skaters. Our clean and powerful performance at the [Easterns] was a great way to end the season.”
After a long day skating in the rink used for the 1980 Winter Olympics, the team headed back to their hotel for conversation. This was a great opportunity for the teammates to reflect on a great season. “I really enjoyed getting to know the entire team better and talking with them about things outside of skating,” McAlarney stated. “I felt like part of the iced brew family.”
At this time the purpose of Iced Brew was clear. “[A] skater casually articulated how this season was different from previous ones, in that the team had really bonded and had been closer than ever before,” Chin reported. “This was exactly what I had prioritized for the season: team unity…I am confident that the team spirit will carry into future seasons and will go a very long way-both on and off the ice.”