With several successful programs of all sports in Division III, Wheaton has an Athletic Department on the rise on both regional and national levels. However, not many speak about one of the most decorated teams our community currently possesses, Wheaton Synchronized Swimming.
At 1,600 or so students: the words Top Tier powerhouse and Wheaton don’t seem like something that should go together. While the school consistently boasts strong teams that compete at the Division III level, no one confuses Wheaton with a school like the University of Michigan, but once again, Wheaton’s Synchronized swimming team has shown that they can compete against schools such as Ohio State and Stanford. Those schools, frankly, have facilities, funding, and scholarships schools the size of Wheaton can’t challenge. Despite the competition, the team finished the year 6th overall at the US Collegiate Championships, scoring higher than schools such as the University of Florida, Arizona, Minnesota, Colorado State, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
First established as a club in 1941, Synchronized Swimming at Wheaton used to compete where Thomas A. Pappas Fitness Center but before it was a weight room. Surprisingly, not too long ago a pool existed right in the very location before Balfour Natatorium opened in 1991. Located in Haas Athletic Center, the Balfour Natatorium hosts Wheaton Swimming and Diving events as well as Synchronized Swimming competitions. This is where the team spends their time practicing and rehearsing to compete as one of the best Synchronized Swimming programs in the entire nation.
Back in March, the Synchro team finished sixth overall at the U.S. Collegiate Nationals with 46 points at the Corwin M. Nixon Acquatic Center at Miami University to stay within the top ten teams in the country for the 26th consecutive season. Along with this success at nationals, the team placed second overall for the fifth-season in a row at the East Collegiate Regional/Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships in the 2013-14 season.
The sport itself combines swimming, dance, and gymnastics. It is a judged event in which judges award points for the teams’ routines. Captains Holly Wagman ’14 and Janine Kopeski ’15 explained that, “[Synchronized Swimming] is all about making routines look as easy and effortless as possible. The easier a routine looks to the judges and the audience, the better the technique of the athletes. Imagine performing acrobatics, holding your breath, and not touching the bottom of the pool all while coordinating your every move with seven other people.” The demands of synchronized swimming require an athlete who, according to Kopeski and Wagman, “is graceful, has great core strength and strength in general, musical interpretation, flexibility, breath control, split-second timing, and endurance.” The swimmers also have to work their routines without the use of goggles, which adds yet another challenge to the events.
Rebecca Ercoli, who is in her seventh year as the head coach, has not only assisted the team in its successes, but has improved and had aspirations of improving from year to year. As head coach, the team placed ninth in the 2009 national competition, seventh in 2010, and sixth in 2011. After a seventh place finish in 2012, the team regained their sixth place position in 2013 at the U.S Collegiate Championships.
The team has quietly made a name for itself: in the past five years the Lyons have finished in the top seven teams at nationals, which is impressive. Despite the national success, the captains still consider the team’s only home event, The Wheaton Invitational, to be their favorite, “In front of our home crowd we are able to showcase our hard work and dedication. Also, the love and support we receive from our friends, students, and staff is truly incredible and motivates us to perform our best.” The way that synchronized swimming is set, squads do not have the flurry of home and away matches head to head against one team, so the chances to see the team are few and far between. However, the team makes sure to put on a good show at home. This year the team placed first both as a team and individually dominating in the figures section of the invitational.
Besides the honors the team has collected in the pool, four members of the Synchronized Swimming team picked up All-Academic team honors. Senior Nicole Chicoine ’14 collected her fourth straight while Captain Janine Kopeski ’15 and Ann Marie Brasacchio ’16 both earned their second selection to the list. Freshman Emma Willing ’17 joins the three with her first selection to the All-Academic team.
With the season being over for this year, the Wire asked Wagman and Kopeski about what they expect from the team next year. The two offered a straightforward response: “Our goal is to improve our standings at nationals and continue to strive for the best team we can be.”
There’s no reason to doubt the team won’t achieve these goals. Wheaton’s Synchronized Swimming team seems to just keep getting better.