By Andrew Rudansky
Coach Meg Preiss stands feet from the pool, arms crossed, analyzing and dissecting each and every movement of the three swimmers in the water. Occasionally Priess tells the girls to straighten their arms, or keep up with the timing. She asks for near perfection.
In the water Shaina Preiss, Catherine Musnicki and Keriann Fitzpatrick and Audrey Sinclair, all members of the East Hampton Synchronized Swimming Team, practice diligently for their upcoming meet. A classical composition plays in the background as the swimmers display their aquatic acrobatics. Musnicki, age 15, a Sag Harbor native, says of the team that they are “not at a professional level yet, but they are definitely getting better all the time.”Â
The three girls were practicing for the Synchronized Swimming East Zone Championships held last weekend at Salem University. This is not the first competition the “Synchro-Swans” have competed in; far from it, they have travelled across the country to places like Ohio, Indiana, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington. Later in the month they will be heading to Gainesville, Florida to compete in nationals.
Musnicki says that they are “hoping to place in the top four” at the East Zone Championships at Salem. Not all the girls are as certain as Musnicki however. Fitzpatrick, age 14, also a Sag Harbor native said, “It is very, very nerve racking.”
The synchronized swimming competition the team was heading to was adjudicated over by five judges. The judges sit on all sides of the pool and look for difficulty, timing and synchronism, deducting points for mistakes and touching the bottom or sides of the pool. The individual judges give a rough score out of 10, and after all the scores are compiled and averaged out, a final score of up to 100 is given for the performance.
“It’s probably a bit harder than a regular swimming race, because of the different personalities involved,” said Preiss. The swimmers not only have to be athletically competent but they need to swim in perfect synch; and to be a successful team, each of the members need to really know the other members of the team. Preiss said that team dynamics need to be pitch perfect to win.
Despite the pressure of the competition the team seems generally relaxed. They break into laughter when they talk about Knox. Knox is a hair gel used by the team to keep their hair from getting in the way while they perform. Fitzpatrick calls the gel “unflavored Jell-O,” and said that all the swimmers in competition use it. She laments that it is hard to get out of your hair but says it is worth it since it is “pretty much waterproof.”
Preiss has been coaching the synchronized swimming since the East Hampton YMCA RECenter opened in 2000, and in the past nine years she has seen the team evolve. The synchronized swim program was the first recreational program at the East Hampton YMCA RECenter and the coach said the program has seen “its ups and downs.”
Preiss has her team practice six days in preparation for competition.
“Effort? I couldn’t ask for more from these girls…I am very proud of my girls.” Beaming, Preiss says that any of the swimmers on her team who want to go to nationals have made it into the competition.
At Salem University the “Synchro-Swans” competed in both solo and team performances. Preiss said she is perhaps the most nervous of the group, adding, “We are a judged sport…and we need to ask ourselves after every performance ‘did I swim my personal best?’”
At last weekend’s event Keriann Fitzpatrick placed third in the solo competition, and sixth in figures. Catherine Musnicki and Audrey Sinclair placed fourth in the duet, and in the trio competition Fitzpatrick, Musnicki and Sinclair placed third.
Preiss said of the results, “They still have a lot of room for improvement before they swim at Gainesville, Florida at the end of the month.”