UMN hosts first intercollegiate skating competition

The Golden Gopher Challenge brings in thousands of dollars to help fund the club team.

Freshman Olivia Kaus competes in the Novice Free Skate group during the first collegiate-level skating competition hosted by the figure skating club at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Sunday, Feb. 11.

Easton Green

Freshman Olivia Kaus competes in the Novice Free Skate group during the first collegiate-level skating competition hosted by the figure skating club at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Sunday, Feb. 11.

Eliana Schreiber

As Olympic figure skaters in PyeongChang prepared for a weekend of competition, so did 19 Midwestern college skating teams.

The University of Minnesota’s figure skating club hosted its first-ever intercollegiate skating competition on Feb. 10 and 11, attracting nearly 200 skaters from across the region and funding for future competitions.

The club with roughly 15-20 members is only a few years old, so many members were surprised when their bid to host one of three Midwestern Section competitions was accepted by U.S. Figure Skating, the organization that coordinates the competitions, said club treasurer Scott Brody.

Brody, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in medicinal chemistry, went to the University of Michigan for undergrad and served as president of its skating club.

He said the Michigan club was more established, but he enjoys helping the younger Minnesota club in a managerial role.

“I’ve had my time as a competitor,” Brody said. “It’s kind of nice to … help pass on knowledge and get them on their feet.”

The University’s club doesn’t have a coach, so the competition is entirely student led and organized, said President Sajya Singh. 

Undergraduates in the club said it is helpful to have someone with more experience like Brody on board, especially during planning for the competition.

Suzanne Schlecht, U.S. Figure Skating chair of collegiate programs and chief accountant for the competition, said she knew Brody from his past involvement with the organization, which contributed to Minnesota being chosen to host the event.

Other factors included the location, the facility and the fact that the University hadn’t hosted before, Schlecht said.

Singh said Minneapolis is a unique location for skating. Many previous intercollegiate skating competitions have been in Michigan, since the sport is more popular there, said Annemarie Heitz, a sophomore from the Oakland University club in Rochester, Michigan.

“We want to spread the opportunity,” Schlecht said. “We don’t want to just keep putting it at the same school all the time.”

Schlecht said while hosting a skating competition is a lot of work for students, she thinks it provides valuable leadership experience and a unique fundraising opportunity for the host club.

Figure skating is an expensive sport, and money raised from the competition helps to pay for future ice time, hotels and travel expenses, all of which the students would otherwise have to pay for out-of-pocket, Brody said.

Singh said skating is a difficult sport to continue in college because of the cost and time commitment.

Despite the barriers, first-year biochemistry student Olivia Kaus joined the figure skating club at the University and competed for the second time this year at the Golden Gopher Challenge as one of 12 skaters representing the University.

Kaus, who skated competitively through high school, said she likes the team environment of skating in college. She said she values the opportunity to show off her talent in a more laid back way.

“Everyone was trying to be the best in high school,” Kaus said. “For the collegiate competition, it’s a lot more laid back.”

At the event Saturday, Schlecht said she was impressed that things were running smoothly, which she said is a result of the students’ planning and preparation.

The top four teams from the Midwest section will move on to nationals, which are held this year in Denver, Colorado.