By Natalie Alcoba
It’s past 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night but Moss Park arena is buzzing.
A group of 16 students are lacing their skates and taking last-minute instructions from coaches, while a handful of spectators await the evening’s performance.
It’s another late-night practice for Ryerson’s figure skating team, but this time competition is in the air.
The skaters are about to go through a practice run to prepare them for their first invitational tournament this Friday at Queen’s University.
Before the team trickles out of the change room to take to the ice, Liisa Brousseau sits alone on the bleachers. She looks excited but a little nervous too. How well the team does tonight will likely foreshadow how they do in the upcoming competition.
“This is the first time we’ve done this,” Brousseau says as the girls go to their change room for a pep talk from head coach, Richard O’Neill.
Brousseau, a third-year journalism student, is doing something new as well. The 21-year-old hung up her skates after a year on the varsity team to become manager.
After former coach Jennifer Chapman resigned at the end of last year, the future of the team was uncertain. But Brousseau worked with assistant athletic director Chuck Mathies and hired four new coaches — O’Neill and three assistants — to help the team in dance, pairs, freeskate and precision competitions. Brousseau and another former skater, Michelle Masek, will coach the precision team.
Under the direction of their new staff, Ryerson’s skaters are confident they can improve on last year’s season, which culminated with a second-place finish in the synchronized event at the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship.
Three skaters hit the ice at Moss Park first, dressed in the team’s purple halter-top dresses. Their tiny steps propel them forward as they dance to the beat of dance music resonating from the speakers.
As Brousseau watched from the sidelines she says she has no regrets about losing her spot on the team.
“Last year was fun,” she says. “But there was just so much disorganization. I realized that I was able to help the team more as a manager.”
She says having someone to take care of administrative details such as choosing music for routines and booking hotels has given the coaches more time to spend with the skaters. And the more time the team can get with O’Neill the better. He coaches with the Toronto Figure Skating Club and has worked with former Canadian superstars like Brian Orser in the past.
Among the skaters taking advantage of the new staff are Kelly Flawn and Renae Redford, the first to his the ice at the practice to prepare for their pairs competition. After, Redford will stay on the ice to practice her senior solo dance routine.
Also practicing solo routines tonight are Carly House, Sara Larendeau and the women who the team has the highest expectations for, Jackie Frank.
Frank, a second-year journalism student who has been skating since she was six years old, is the only skater on the team who competes at the senior A level, the third-highest calibre of skating in university play.
She says when she skated for her school team she doesn’t get as nervous as she did when she competed with her club team in Ingersoll, Ont.
“You’re still working as hard, and you still get just as nervous,” she says. “But it’s more fun-oriented.”
“Skating is my outlet,” she adds. “When I skate, I release.”
The team creates the image that having fun is the most important thing to do.
As each girl goes n the ice to do a routine, her teammates applaud from the hockey bench. Regardless of whether the skater lands her jumps or stumbles, the cheers are just as loud when the skater takes her bow.
These girls, brought together by their love of skating, have become friends. “You form a bond with the team,” says Frank, the co-captain. “It’s not just physical, it’s emotional and social as well. I love my girls.”