Skating in-sync, in-style and on-the-ice in Syracuse again

Skating in-sync, in-style, and on-the-ice again

The Orange Experience at Syracuse University finished its competition season strong.
Published: February 22, 2022
Synchronized Skating Open Collegiate
The Orange Experience at Syracuse University skates on the Olympic Center's 1980 ice rink during the Empire State Winter Games in Lake Placid on Feb. 5.

Psychology and sociology sophomore Emma Banuski is one of at least 20 skaters on the Orange Experience at Syracuse University, the university’s only open collegiate synchronized figure skating team. She has been figure skating since she was three, with seven years of synchronized skating experience. Banuski has practiced with the team and bonded with other skaters since joining the team last year, but never competed at the college level — until this fall.

“Many of [the sophomores] have done synchro before, but not as a part of the team. Because the sophomores, along with the new freshman that joined this year, more than half of the team has not competed,” Banuski said. “We really were so excited to go to competitions.”

The OESU, founded in 2008 and coached by Lisa Mirabito, is one of SU’s 39 club sports. At Tennity Ice Pavilion, the team practices routines twice a week. The competition season lasts from the beginning of the fall semester to the middle of spring. Last year, the OESU’s competition season was canceled due to the pandemic, when COVID-19 put a pause on many club sports for SU, like men’s ice hockey. The team continued to practice and fundraise, but Banuski said the absence of competitions left her and the new skaters feeling unfulfilled.

“It was really nice being a freshman coming to campus and having something to do when there really wasn’t much to do,” Banuski said. “But it definitely kind of wasn’t the best that we didn’t get to compete because that’s why we joined the team.”

But this year, the OESU trained for competition once again. After holding tryouts in September, the team has competed four times since November. Julianna Paladino, an off-ice captain and senior biotechnology and policy studies double-major, said the team took first place during the Boston Synchronized Skating Classic in Boston, second during the Eastern Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships in Norwood, Massachusetts, and first during the Empire State Winter Games in Lake Placid. At their final competition at the Reflections Synchro Invitational in Hershey, Penn., this past weekend, the OESU finished in first place.

“I’ve done individual competition and everything, but the team aspect, especially coming into college when you don’t really know anybody freshman year, is really nice to have a group to go to right away,” said Caroline Katzman, on-ice captain and senior information management and technology major.

Both Katzman and Paladino said the number of collegiate synchro skating teams dwindled since they joined the OESU in their freshman years. Although the Princeton University Figure Skating Club remains one of their biggest competitors, other teams they’ve competed against in the past have disbanded or chosen not to compete. COVID-19 not only paused their seasons, but also increased the cost of practice time, travel and even admission to competitions.

“We’re like one of the only ones that still stuck together,” Paladino said. “One of our main [competitors] used to be SUNY Oswego, and they completely disbanded because of COVID. We were lucky that we were still able to practice. That kind of helped us stay strong for this year.”

“But if we didn’t have the ice last year, then I feel like that would have been a lot harder to rebuild the team and get members.”

Banuski, who’s now the team’s public relations officer, said more people were interested in joining the OESU this year thanks to tabling at both the Sports Club Fair and Fall Involvement Fair.

“I haven’t been on the team that long, but even Lisa said that this year was one of the biggest turnouts that she’s ever had for tryouts,” Banuski said.

When it comes to synchronized skating and SU sports clubs, one of Katzman’s hopes for the future of the OESU as a graduating senior was increased awareness of the OESU as a sports club. Additional recognition could be something SU might benefit from as well.

“There’s a lot of skaters who come look at this school and have no idea that this team exists,” Katzman said. “I know plenty of people who came and looked, had no idea about this team and didn’t end up coming here. And every time we go to competitions, and I see friends from old teams I used to skate on or just other people I know from the skating world, they have no idea that this exists. If more people knew about the college teams on this level, I really think it would boost both the school’s popularity, our team’s popularity and just bring more people to campus.”

Synchronized Skating Open Collegiate
SU skaters pose at the end of their routine in the Olympic Center during the Empire State Winter Games.