Wearing uniforms of sparkling purple and black, the Rohnert Park Cal Skate, Artistic Skating Club “Express” team skated their way to winning the Artistic Roller Skating National Championships last week in Nebraska, taking home medals for the first time and making a comeback after only coming in third place at last year’s competition.
11 of the 13 team members competed in a five-minute synchronized routine, which comprised of circular transitions, spins, backwards floor transitions and integrated dance moves across a wide expanse of an old-fashioned wooden rink.
According to Sasha Ranjbar, both a team coach and member, the routine is then judged on multiple aspects of the routine in order to get a score.
“They judge on two different sets of scores, one is for technical merit, so that’s on how difficult the content in the routine is and the other score is on artistic impression, and that’s how you look in your overall performance,” Ranjbar explained.
She said that the team was shocked that they actually won first place since they were very close to the then reigning champions from Chico. The results weren’t quite clear until the scores were officially announced.
“I think we were in shock, it was really exciting and we were surprised when we saw our scores because it was really close between us and the defending national champions, so once we received our scores it was unclear whether we had won or got second place. When they finally announced, everyone was excited and some of us were crying,” Ranjbar said.
She said afterwards to celebrate, the team treated themselves to the sugary treat of doughnuts from a local shop.
Jean Saya, who has owned Cal Skate here in Rohnert Park for 14 years and is also a team member, described the scene as a happy and exciting event, as they finally claimed the first place medal.
“We fell short last year, we came in third, so to win this year was an accomplishment. The team feeling in Nebraska was great and having the parents of the younger members of the team there to root the adults on was great and that is all the positive things about having a group from the rink go together,” Saya said.
However, for Saya, it was also a personal accomplishment, having had two hip replacements and not having competed since the age of 21.
“I hadn’t really competed until I had joined the team and I’m 67 and I had two hip replacements. So I hadn’t really competed for a stretch in my own skills for a long time, so for me it was an… accomplishment to be competing again after all of these years,” Saya said.
In order to qualify for the nationals the team, which has skaters between the ages of 13 and 67, had to first place in the regional championship.
“We had to first place in regionals, where we placed second and that was in Fresno and then from there we qualified for state nationals, where we placed first,” Ranjbar explained.
The team, which started in 2014, conducted rigorous practices throughout the season in preparation for the championships up until the day before the competition itself, according to Ranjbar. Weeks prior to the nationals, the team started practicing two times a week, instead of just one.
“In the beginning of the season, around October and November, we practiced about an hour each week. Leading up to the regional championships and national championships, we bumped that up and were practicing about two times a week as a team,” Ranjbar said. “We work on the different skating maneuvers and work on synchronization, because it’s really important for everyone to be on the same step… The day before we attended a couple practices on a practice floor that they have available.”
Ranjbar said the most difficult move that the team had to persevere and work through, was a circular transition, where the team makes a circle across the floor hand in hand. Practicing this challenging move had even previously caused a broken elbow for one skater.
“The practices went OK, but there were still a lot of glitches with the different maneuvers we were doing, there were some falls, some letting go. When we actually did our routine and nothing terrible happened it was very exciting,” Ranjbar described .
Despite just having won first place, the team will get straight back to practice and training this fall in preparation for next season.
“We’ll be building up our routine with new choreography and different maneuvers starting in September to October. Going forward our goal is going to be maintaining our team, keep the commitment and everyone’s spirits up and hopefully gain some new members,” she said.
When asked what the most difficult aspect about being a coach and conducting practices is, Saya said that it was the organizational aspect of getting all team members together for group practice, as well as catering the sessions to different skill sets.
“Coordinating practices is challenging with 12 people. One guy on the team goes to school in Berkeley and we have people who have to travel, so that’s number one and number two would be working with people who have different skill levels, it has to be a routine that everyone can do,” Saya said.
However, for now, according to Ranjbar, the team is still in the afterglow of their winning title.
“We’re happy to be first in the nation,” Ranjbar exclaimed.