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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Jul. 10, 2014 4 years ago

Synchronized in Seattle: Local team returns from national competition

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by: Steven Ryzewski Senior Sports Editor

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The YCF Loreleis are inspired.

In the days since the synchronized swimming program’s team of 13-to-15-year old competitors returned from its trip to the Pacific Northwest, where the girls competed in the USA Synchro Age Group Finals, there has been a common question asked of coach Teresa Szakos.

“Where’s Nationals next year?”

The West Orange County-based team qualified for the national competition for the first time in more than two decades at the beginning of the summer and, from June 27 through July 1, the eight girls and Szakos were in Federal Way, Wash. — just south of Seattle — competing against some of the best teams in the country.

It was an enlightening experience for the team.

The Loreleis placed 30th in the 13-to-15-age group, but team members like Gunjan “Gigi” Devnani, a rising sophomore at Dr. Phillips High School, say they are motivated to build upon their breakthrough season.

“We had so much fun … it was amazing in getting to watch some of the best teams in the country and being at the same competition as them,” Devnani said. “We were extremely inspired by some of the routines we saw.

“We thought about how we can use what we saw and make our next season better to qualify again for the national competition.”

While Devnani and her teammates — Michelle Tommasi, Erin Lowe, Saskia Steenstra, Sarah Demsky, Sydnie Steenstra, Phoebe Espinel and Julie Marcus — may be ready to hop back in the pool and get working for next season, Szakos said the girls should be proud of their achievements in simply making it to the national competition.

The Loreleis advanced to Nationals out of a difficult regional competition and Szakos, who herself was a member of the Puerto Rican National Team in synchronized swimming (2000) and speed swimming (1998-99), said it is a testament to the work they put in and something they will be able to build off of.

“For us it was a huge accomplishment,” Szakos said. “This was a very good experience for all of us. It was mostly a learning experience of what to expect, what the caliber of competition [is] and how to prepare for it.

The Loreleis, who practice out of the YMCA Aquatic Center on International Drive, broke the two-decade drought after coming up just short of advancing out of their region a year ago.

“I think this year we really realized what it took and how we had to come together as a team,” Devnani said. “I remember last year we were all confident that we were going to qualify and we didn’t, so I think we all just kind of took a step back to focus on what exactly we needed to improve on.”

In addition to competing and observing some of the other teams, the Loreleis took advantage of their trip and did some sightseeing in Seattle, roughly half an hour away from Federal Way.

The girls visited the Space Needle and Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, but seem to agree the best part of the trip was the Ducks of Seattle boat tour.

Szakos has been coaching the Loreleis for four years and, with the national competition in the rearview now, took an opportunity to reflect on how far the team has come over those years.

“When you put it in perspective … we’ve actually come pretty far along,” Szakos said.

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