When it comes to sports success, Pittsburgh has become synonymous with many things: Super Bowl titles, Stanley Cup wins and plenty of notable playoff performances. Synchronized skating, however, has not been among these—until now, thanks to the recent accomplishments of Pittsburgh’s first U.S. Figure Skating synchronized skating teams, the Steel City Blades.
The Steel City Blades pre-juvenile and open juvenile teams practice twice a week at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center on Neville Island under the direction of pre-juvenile head coach Karen Volk and open juvenile head coach Jennie Vicinie. Each team logs approximately 1 ½ hours of training time on Tuesdays and another three hours of practice on Sundays where they work together to perfect a variety of synchronized skating elements, including intersections, lines, blocks, circles and pinwheels, and improve their synchronization on transitional steps, choreography, timing and expression as well.
By the start of the year, it was clear that their hard work had paid off when both teams put out strong performances at the 30th annual Colonial Classic Synchronized Skating Competition held January 10-12 at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell in Lowell, Mass. It was here that the open juvenile team skated its way to a silver medal and the pre-juvenile team to a fourth-place finish.
Vicinie credits these high marks to her skaters’ ability to work well together, adding “I think the biggest benefit is that the majority of the team has been skating together for several years, so they are very cohesive.”
Volk was particularly impressed with her pre-juvenile team’s execution of a difficult pivoting line segment.
The impressive scores carried over into the following weekend when both teams captured the gold at their respective levels competing at the 2014 South Atlantic Open in Richmond, Va. The pre-juvenile team found itself with a near-perfect skate that earned four first-place marks and a second-place ordinal from the judges while the open juvenile team beat out six other teams with a “picket fence” (all first-place ordinals) to secure its place ahead of the five other pre-juvenile teams.
Vicinie says the audience-catching no-hold block, which emphasizes the team’s energy, a no-hold circle and a backward intersection that leaves everyone holding their breath received rave reviews and helped set the team apart from its competition.
Skaters developed individual and team skills during summer boot camp
A weeklong boot camp in August kicked off the start of the 2013-2014 season for beginner, pre-juvenile and open juvenile skaters. During this time, the teams worked to develop the required skating skills for their levels, learned program choreography and had the chance to work with head coaches Vicinie and Volk, Little Blades head coach Cari Breed, specialty coach Rachel Lane-McCarthy and Bethany Brinkman and Jessica Wasik, two new assistant coaches.
The pre-juvenile team dazzled at the 2014 Colonial Classic
This year’s pre-juvenile program is choreographed to showcase the team’s strengths and provide plenty of opportunities for over-the-top expression. Their program opens with Christina Aguilera’s “But I Am a Good Girl” and concludes with a roaring rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” sung by Marilyn Monroe. “I think what set them apart was a combination of things,” explains Volk. “They have a lot of power when they skate and it is clear that they enjoy the music they are skating to!”
Strong synchronized skills set the open-juvenile team apart from its competition
Vicinie also believes that the power behind her open juvenile team is one of the things that leaves a lasting impression on the judges and audience. “They have a lot of power and a great energy that really helps the audience get into the program.” The coaches drew upon the popularity of the Roaring Twenties and the 2013 Baz Luhrman movie “The Great Gatsby” for the program’s music, which includes a fun Charleston piece and “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” from the film’s soundtrack.
Both teams are working toward another great skate at eastern sectionals
The Steel City Blades open juvenile and pre-juvenile teams are currently preparing for their next competition and the largest of the season, the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Eastern Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships scheduled for Jan. 30 through Feb. 1 at the Giant Center and Hersheypark Arena in Hershey, Pa. This year’s sectionals is hosted by the Central Pennsylvania Figure Skating Club and the Hershey Figure Skating Club and marks the largest in history with 156 participating teams from throughout the eastern section of the country. Both teams will compete against 27 other synchronized skating teams at their respective levels. “Our goal is to place in the top 4 in the qualifying round on Friday, which will put us through to the championship round on Saturday,” says Volk.
The beginner team finished third at the 2014 South Atlantic Open
This season, the Steel City Blades introduced a third competitive level to its organization with the addition of a ten-member, developmental beginner team. At its first competition of the year, the 2014 South Atlantic Open, the team placed third out of the four teams competing at beginner level with their “Jailhouse Rock” program. They are now gearing up for the 6th annual Reflections Synchro Invitational on Feb. 16, 2014 at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa.