Valentine’s Day weekend will be a busy one for many of Stanford’s 36 varsity sports, but it’ll be the official start of the season for one that doesn’t get a lot of attention despite its beauty, strength and artistry. That sport is synchronized swimming.
Not many colleges have synchronized swimming as a sport — and if they do, it is often considered club. At Stanford it’s not only a varsity sport, but one of the most successful programs in the nation, a program that has fed swimmers to international competition and won seven U.S. Collegiate National Championships.
The team’s quest for its eighth title will begin this weekend, when the squad takes on Incarnate Word on Friday and Saturday in its first meet of the year.
Before official competition has even started, this season already has a different flair from past ones: For the first time since 2005, Stanford will be able to field two teams for team swim, when groups of eight swimmers perform at a single time.
Collegiate synchronized swimming has several different routine events — solo, duet, trio and team — but the team event is the most important, as it yields the most points at competition.
While Stanford’s fiercest competitors have no problem fielding two teams, Stanford has not been able to do so in a decade, affecting the type of routines and technical events the team chooses to count towards its overall total.
“We’re always working on a deficit because we only have one team routine, so we’re very excited this year to be able to field two teams and to count both of those teams for the overall point total,” said head coach Sara Lowe. “It’s going to be a little bit different for us, and we have a lot more options, which is really fantastic for us.”
Stanford can attribute this year’s phenomenon to its latest two recruiting classes, the most recent of which brought seven freshmen to The Farm. As a result, the team, which only had seven and 11 swimmers in 2014 and 2015, respectively, will be competing with 15 swimmers this season.
Rounding out its group of underclassmen is its five-person sophomore class, including Clare McGovern and Erica Slavin, who were the duet for Canada at Junior Worlds in 2014. The pair, along with Sandra Ortellado — who was part of the U.S. team that competed in the Pan American Games and the FINA World Championship this past summer — will comprise Stanford’s trio team.
But the team’s success is not solely reliant upon the performances of its underclassmen: Last season’s second-place team at the Collegiate National Championship also includes current juniors Marisa Tashima and Isabella Park, along with sole senior and captain Evelyna Wang.
“The great thing about our team is everybody is very talented and the pressure is really dispersed pretty evenly as far as who contributes what to the team,” Lowe said. “Everybody on the team is going to be working as hard as they can and giving as much as they can to make sure that we get the highest placement in all events that we’re counting.”
Friday and Saturday’s home meets against Incarnate Word may kick off the season for the Cardinal, but to the team it’s just the first stop on the road to the Collegiate National Championships, which will be held at the end of March.
“When we travel to our competitions or when we host someone in an actual competition at home we approach it as training,” Lowe said. “We don’t approach it as a competition and that’s just part of our plan.”
After the competition this weekend, Stanford will host the Stanford Invitational, as well as the Western Regional Championships, before heading to Gainesville, Florida, for the Collegiate Championships.
While Stanford won the national title three years ago, Lindenwood and Ohio State have taken the last two, with the Buckeyes having won their 29th title this past season.
Despite a pair of third-place finishes the past two years, this year could be the year for Stanford to reclaim the top spot in the world of collegiate synchro.
“That’s really the goal this year… we want to be at the top and we don’t see any reason why we can’t be,” Lowe said. “I think the girls last year had a lofty goal and they came a little bit short and they want to prove themselves a little bit this year, so it’s been really fun to watch them work really hard.
“This year, they’ve just gone above and beyond any of our expectations. Beyond just winning a title, they have a very big goal of making sure that Stanford synchro is back where it should be.”
Competition kicks off Friday at 2:20 p.m. and at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Avery Aquatic Center.