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Santa Clara Aquamaids at World Aquatics Championships

Borrowing a line from the popular superhero series Transformers, there is certainly “more than meets the eye” when it comes to synchronized swimming. After all, this is a sport that takes place below the water’s surface just as much as it does above it. For novice viewers of synchronized swimming, current Santa Clara Aquamaid (SCA) and USA Senior National Team member Nicole Dzurko describes the sport as “gymnastics meets swimming and ballet. It’s a bunch of sports combined. It’s graceful, but also extremely challenging on the body.”

Dzurko, 17, is one of four current or past SCA swimmers selected for this year’s USA Senior National Team. The squad of eight swimmers and two alternates recently returned from competing at the World Aquatic Championships (WAC) in Budapest last month. Dzurko as well as teammate Jacklyn Luu, 18, are still SCA team members, while Natalia Vega and Karenza Tjoa are former SCA members now in college. But that’s not the end of the Santa Clara representation at the WACs. One of the trailblazing men in synchronized swimming, Santa Clara native Bill May, 38, won the bronze medal in the mixed duet routine with partner Kanako Spendlove.

Dzurko noted that Synchronized swimming often gets overlooked by the general public.

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“A lot of people, when I tell them what I do, they’ll just be like ‘oh, it’s synchro! So this? (At this point is when Dzurko put her arms over her head and demonstrated the dance move made famous by the song “Walk Like an Egyptian”)’ Or they’ll be like, ‘oh, synchro! The ones with the flower caps.’ It’s always kind of a downer to hear that that’s what people think. A lot of people also think we touch the bottom [of the pool] to get our teammates way up [for flips out of the water,] but it’s all egg beater.”

“More than meets the eye” is very much an apt description when it comes to “synchro.” In the past, it has been a particular challenge for coaches to teach technique to swimmers that are visual learners. That’s why the latest camera technology can be extremely useful for competitive team coaches like USA Senior National Team coach Jenny Ekhilevsky. There is now dual camera technology that syncs together an above water camera with an underwater camera, allowing coaches and swimmers to view the entire routine in one combined image.

“It certainly is beneficial,” noted Ekhilevsky. “You can even pull up your rival’s video and put the video of your routine right on top of their routine so you could see exactly what the differences are. The technology is definitely helpful.”

Ekhilevsky was tasked with coming up with the routine for this year’s Senior National team, which ended up placing 11th and 12th in technical and free routines in Budapest. Both Ekhilevsky and mixed duet coach Chris Carver are long-time members of the SCA coaching staff. Carver most famously coached Team USA at both the 2000 and 2004 Olympic games. The USA Olympic team finished fourth in Sydney in 2000, but four years later they won a bronze medal in Athens.

“The Santa Clara program is certainly one of the strongest, if not the strongest in the entire nation. It has been [that strong] for 30-35 years,” responded Ekhilevsky. “We have a long history of success at Santa Clara so it was not any surprise to me to have several Aquamaids on the national team. There alway has been a number of Aquamaids on the national team and I think there always will be.”

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