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Previewing the 2023 U.S. Synchronized Skating Collegiate Division Championships

Peoria, Illinois is the place to be for a non NCAA National Championship is this Saturday with Miami as the favorite.

ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships - Hamilton

The 2023 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships are this weekend in Peoria, Illinois and the Collegiate division is center stage Saturday evening. All 12 teams that competed at their sectional competitions qualified for a chance to compete at the national championships.

This is not an NCAA event, although the teams are varsity sports at Miami University, Adrian College and Trine University. Most of the organizations competing are independent organizations working with the universities they represent.

If you’ve never heard of the sport, it’s figure skating with 12-20 skaters on the ice at once, skating as a team to score as many points as possible. It’s similar to Olympic figure skating in that there are technical elements and program components to the score, but jumps aren’t required.

In the collegiate division, eight elements are required for the technical score. The order of the elements and which elements to use is up to each team. There are three mandatory elements but the other five offer a chance to tailor the program to team strengths and to be creative. Each element has levels of difficulty and base values associated with each level. All eight base values combine to make the total base value.

There are ways to separate teams within element levels called grade of execution, or GOE. The top teams will be striving for the highest levels of each element, so how well the element is performed comes into play. The judges record a number between -5 and +5 and that turns into a score that is a percentage of the base value for that element.

The program component score is the point value for the composition, presentation and skating skills of the program and team. The music interpretation, facial expressions, dresses, themes, skating skills and transitions between elements all play a factor in this portion of the score.

Explanations are great, but watching it is the only way to do the sport justice:

In general, the skaters should be doing almost the exact same thing or the same thing as the group of skaters they are working with. If something catches your eye, it caught the judges’ eyes too. The teams hope it’s what they are trying to highlight and not a wobble.

Miami and Michigan have been dominant forces in the Collegiate Division in recent years. They have split the last six nationals competitions and are both poised to do it again.

Michigan and Miami headline the field

Miami is the defending national champion, with other titles in 2019 and 2016. Michigan won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, and also pulled out a surprise win in 2020. The pandemic canceled the 2021 event, so these two teams have split the last six competitions. It’s worth noting that prior to this arbitrarily selected six-year window, Miami won the nationals competition each season from 2005 to 2016.

This season, Miami is the model of a consistent program. Their scores grew throughout their season, mainly due to the development of the technical elements. Their total base values went from 39 to 46.5 and they added a point in GOE. Miami made a change after two competitions and now their final element is a synchronized spin. At the beginning of the year, they were skating a No Hold element to finish. They consistently have a high program component score, added points to their total base value and skated it better as the season progressed.

Michigan is the only team to score in the upper 90s not named Miami. They scored a 99.32 at the Porter Classic in early December and haven’t been able to recreate that magic since. Miami was at that competition and both teams skated a clean program. Michigan won head-to-head. At Porter, Michigan scored 46.08 points in the program components and a 53.24 technical score.

Their base values have been where they need to be all season, but the GOEs and program components have only been there once. To win on Saturday they need to replicate that performance. Michigan could win it all or end up in the middle of the next pack of teams.

A tight bunch, looking to jump up

Five teams' top scores are within 6.01 points of each other. Trine University, Western Michigan, University of Delaware, Adrian College and Michigan State range from 86.13 to 80.12. Anyone can win any given competition, but these teams haven’t been able to post a score as high as Michigan and Miami to this point.

There are enough teams here that someone is going to make a big jump and blow their previous high out of the water. The beautiful part of synchronized skating is that your main competitor is yourself. Posting your own highest score needs to be the focus of each team since there is no way to affect what the other teams do. It’s possible that any of these teams make a huge jump and win, or they all do and there’s no shuffle of the order.

Trine scored the highest score of this group and they did it at the Midwestern Sectional. Trine is tied with Western Michigan as the only two programs to skate five times this year. They’ve been very consistent on the program component scores but fluctuated on the technical score. Trine’s highest score came with a slightly lower technical base value but a big improvement in GOE.

Western Michigan is peaking at the right time. They scored their highest at their last competition, topping Trine and Delaware at the same time. The base value in that program was the highest any team has earned so far this season. A slight improvement in their execution would be nice, but to make major moves the program component score needs to improve. They haven’t broken the 40-point mark and Miami’s lowest score is 44.39. That’s the gap to close to end up on the podium.

Delaware had a nightmarish first skate at Porter with four falls and a deduction for an interruption in excess. It’s unlikely that was going to happen ever again, so improving the score was easy. Still from the first competition to the second, Trine improved their score 12 points and five more from the second to the third. Their GOEs and program component scores have consistently grown. Delaware might not be at their ceiling just yet.

Adrian was the only Collegiate division team at the Diamond Classic in November when they posted their highest score of the season. This season could be a transition year for the program as Dana Hall is in the first year of her tenure as Adrian’s head coach. The scores might not be where they want them to be, but this season is a solid foundation to build from.

Michigan State’s scores have been on an upward trajectory and improved the technical score and GOE scores all season. Those two don’t always go hand in hand. As the difficulty of the program increases, the execution isn’t always better. They’ve had a fall in each of their last two skates and the latest score was their season’s best. A clean skate could boost their score even higher.

Team Excel definitely feels like they should have two wins so far this season. After a win at the Boston Synchro Classic, they took second in the Cape Cod Synchronized Skating Classic by 0.67 points. They had four falls. They are the best collegiate program in Boston this season, but they’re not directly affiliated with a university. From their first skate to their latest they’ve added 12 points. They could have more to add.

Illinois has made steady progress in increasing its scores throughout the season. They’ve added 10 points, primarily through the technical score, and their season-high had deductions that can be cleaned up. The points are on the table for an Illinois high score at a competition basically at home.

Massachusetts bragging rights

Boston University, Boston College and the University of Massachusetts are within a two hours drive from each other and are headed to Illinois to compete for Massachusetts bragging rights. They’ve been each other's main competition at the Boston Synchronized Skating Classic and the Cape Cod Synchronized Skating Classic.

Boston College has been setting the bar for technical scores in this group, but by the Eastern Sectionals, Boston College and Boston University have caught up. Boston University rivals Boston College on the program component score and can add two points with a clean skate alone.

The leader of this group will be decided on two things:

  • Executing the element levels correctly and getting them called.
  • Skating clean.

There’s not a lot of space between this group. A point here and a point there can make all the difference.

The collegiate division skates at 7:05 pm EST on Saturday and can be watched on Peacock Premium with a valid subscription.