The University of Richmond synchronized swimming team celebrated its 50th anniversary at its home competition against Ohio State University on Feb. 10.
The celebration recognized everything UR synchronized swimming has endured since it came to campus, including becoming a varsity sport in 1980 and moving to club status in 2001.
During the meet, UR recognized its three senior members, Erin Wheeler, Jinny Kang and Allison Zhao.
Wheeler ranked in the top ten nationally for her solo routine the past three years, but opted out of performing a solo routine this year so that she could compete with the rest of the girls in the team routine. Wheeler said she had wanted to be a part of training with the team more, which ultimately paid off at Nationals.
“That was probably my favorite memory because it was the first time we had a full team at Nationals and it just felt like we were really a team for the first time ever,” Wheeler said.
Kang emphasized the importance of the team.
“The members make it – it’s a make it or break it,” Kang said.
Because synchronized swimming is a club sport, anyone can become a member no matter his or her experience level. Zhao, now a captain, said she could barely swim when she had signed up for the team her freshman year.
“I wanted to try something completely new and foreign to me and push myself,” Zhao said.
Becoming a team member also means becoming a member of the synchronized swimming family, as demonstrated by the more than 40 UR synchronized swimming alumni who attended the competition, some from as far back as 1967.
Many of the alumni were a part of the synchronized swimming team when it was a varsity sport under coach Peg Hogan.
Julie Luster, who swam when Hogan coached, said she saw the 50th anniversary as a celebration of great memories.
Andrea Steffanich, Luster’s former teammate, said she admired how the swimmers now worked together to raise the money for the expenses of their club sport.
“I’m very impressed by the dedication of the swimmers and the coaches,” Steffanich said.
Another former varsity team member and captain, Elizabeth Munz, said she was glad to see how the current members have kept the team traditions alive.
“It was a really tight community – it still is a tight community,” Munz said.
In an expression of unity, the alumni combined with the current team members for a Spider cheer and a picture during a break in the competition.
Coach Asha Bandal, who had been on the UR varsity swimming team herself, said she had teared up when she saw all the alumni joining them by the pool because of the huge legacy they had left.
“I’m overwhelmed – it’s awesome,” Bandal said.
Although UR scored 51 points and Ohio State, the reigning national champions, scored 94, the UR seniors agreed that the day was a highlight of their careers because they were part of a lasting legacy.
“To be able to know that you’re part of something bigger than just the team and the university is something really special,” Zhao said.
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