Brianna McIntyre calls it the “synchro sense,” developed through competing in a sport in which each team member is in concert with every movement of the athlete next to her on the ice.
It’s something the Ursuline Academy junior has keenly refined in her 10 years of synchronized skating and three years with the Team Excel Junior team out of The Skating Club of Boston. She described synchro sense as the ability to know what is happening all around you at all times during a routine, to adjust instinctively to any little misstep, and then to be able to pull everyone back together in an instant.
“It’s being super aware where everyone is supposed to be and how to fix it if it doesn’t happen,” the Westwood resident said. “When falls do happen, it’s reacting to where you can go so you don’t get hurt, or fall and hurt the person who is already down, then what makes it easiest to get them back into the routine so you don’t lose points.”
It doesn’t come easily. McIntyre’s Team Excel Junior skaters from throughout Eastern Massachusetts practice together six hours a week, spend another hour together in the weight room working on core and upper-body strength, and another six to eight hours a week drilling individual skills, she said.
But when it does come together toward the end of a season — as the squad hopes it will when it competes in the US Synchronized Skating Championships in Providence Feb. 26-29 — it can be a thing of beauty.
“Positivity is a big thing, and understanding that things are not always going to go well, and you have to keep pushing through it,” said Team Excel teammate Emily Schneider, also an Ursuline Academy junior, who is from Walpole. “At the beginning of the year stuff does not go well. Then throughout the year the positive attitude with the progress really helps that.”
McIntyre and Schneider have each been involved in synchronized skating for a decade. This is the third straight year they will compete at Nationals on the Junior team (ages 14-18), and both have spent the last couple of weeks not only getting themselves ready for a peak performance in Providence, but also helping coach the Team Excel Juvenile team (ages 10-13) that qualified for the first time this year.
“We started three years ago just kind of playing the music and we found ourselves kind of getting more involved,” Schneider said. “We formed relationships with these younger girls and we really like to help them out learning the stuff that we did at their age that made us fall in love with the sport.”
Lee Ann Filosa, who grew up in Medfield and attended Milton Academy, coaches the Juvenile team and skates on the Adult team that won the national championship two years ago. She said she began the sport when she was 7 years old and has stuck with it 24 years as a skater, peer leader on a college team during her time at Brown University and Mass. College of Pharmacy, and as a coach.
Filosa will also be skating and coaching at Nationals with Team Excel, having qualified Adult, Collegiate, Junior, and Juvenile teams for the first time in program history.
“I love the team setup where it is such a shared experience,” Filosa said. “We have our goals and we either achieve them or not achieve them together. When I skated individually, I found it lonely. It wasn’t the right fit for me. I enjoy the camaraderie and community.”
Team Excel and the powerhouse Lexington-based Hayden Synchronized Skating Ice Mates are two of the biggest synchronized skating programs in the state that will be represented in Providence. According to US Synchronized Skating, the US Championships were first held in 1984 and the first World Synchronized Skating Championship was held in 2000.
There are nearly 600 synchronized teams registered with US Figure Skating, with nearly 5,000 athletes performing in regional competitions annually.
“I think it will be exciting for the skaters’ families to come and cheer on their older siblings,” said Filosa, who added that there is a push to make synchronized skating an Olympic sport. “The older girls are role models for the younger ones, so this is a chance to see them perform on a level you don’t get to see them on very often.”
For the Ursuline classmates, that means their friends, who have mostly only seen them compete in local events or in YouTube clips, can come and get an idea of what the sport is all about at the highest levels.
“A bunch of my friends want to go, so it will be fun,” McIntyre said. “They know there are a lot of times when I can’t be around to hang out on a Friday night because I’m skating. But they don’t usually see what I spend so much time doing.”
“A lot of my friends don’t really know what I do,” Schneider added. “It will be good for them to see it more on a national scale. They know I skate. But they don’t really know all that goes into it.”
Scott Souza can be reached at ScottSouza@journalist.com.