When Michelle Hong joined Cal Figure Skating in her freshman year, she could count the number of teammates she had on one hand. Now a senior, Hong oversees a team of 25 skaters, 12 of whom will be competing at nationals this weekend. The U.S. Intercollegiate Championships — the highest-level competition for college figure skaters — will be held in Michigan from Friday to Sunday. The team secured a place at nationals after earning a silver at the Pioneer Open competition. UC Berkeley, along with University of Denver and UCLA, will be representing the Pacific Coast at the competition.
Skaters compete individually to earn team points, and they compete together in the team maneuvers and synchronized skating events. Each school falls into one of three collegiate conferences: Eastern, Midwestern and Pacific Coast. During the season, Cal skaters qualified for nationals after competing in the Tiger Challenge in October, Golden Bear Skate in January and Pioneer Open in February.
The team has previously reached nationals but has never secured a medal. The past two years, Cal has placed fourth at the championships.
“This weekend, I have high hopes for the team,” said Hong.
At the last Cal Rec Sports banquet, the skaters earned the title of most improved team. The team’s expansion and improvement can be partly attributed to the large group of freshman skaters who joined this year.
Cal Figure Skating includes both a competitive team and a recreational team. While many of the skaters have been competing from a very young age at the national and international level, some members are beginners, and others are skaters returning to the sport after taking a break.
“Overall, we have a strong freshman team,” said Hong. “Their enthusiasm and spirit help us so much. It helps the upperclassmen too.”
The team placed emphasis on organizing group activities to strengthen team spirit. Freshman Sara Billman asserts that in the individualistic world of figure skating, team bonding is especially important.
“The skating team has helped me transition into such a large university,” said Billman. “Even on my first day at this university, I had someone looking out for me and eating lunch with me. We’re teammates, and we’ve also become really good friends.”
Contact Tiffany Gong at [email protected].