They may be called the Ice Illusions, but the collection of medals they won this winter is very real.
The East St. Paul-based synchronized skating team of 10 young women aged 13 to 19 came away with top-three finishes in all three events it participated in.
The team won gold in pre-novice competition at the Prairie Synchronized Skating Championships in Souris in February, bronze at the Living Skies Synchroskate International in Regina in March, and bronze at the Manitoba championships in January.
"It was a really successful year for us," said 16-year-old Bryn Koehn, the team’s captain. "We weren’t expecting to do so well because of the number of teams (in our category).
"I think everyone bonded more this year for some reason, and some of the veterans really took the lead to make everyone the best they could be."
Coach Jessica Watson, who was a member of the team from its inaugural season in 2001 when she was just in Grade 7, said the highlight of the season was scoring higher than nine other teams to win the Prairie event.
The team plans to move up to the intermediate category next year, which would make them eligible for a spot in the national championships if they continue to perform well.
Synchronized skating isn’t as widely known in Manitoba as it is in Eastern Canada. Only about eight teams compete in the sport, which is similar to ice dancing in its use of choreography and teamwork, but can feature as many as 16 skaters on the ice at once.
"All the skaters match each other," Watson explained, "and make formations on the ice. Each element in the program is judged on how it’s done, whether it’s in unison, skills, creativity, musicality and energy."
This year, the Ice Illusions performed a three-minute program to music from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. After skating to the same song over and over again all winter in practices and performances, do the skaters ever want to listen to it again?
"Looking back at music we skated to five years ago, sometimes it’s nice to hear it again," said Koehn, who joined the team when she was six years old. "But at the end of the year it’s nice to have a break from hearing it."
This year’s musical selection was made because of its "highlights and accents," which, according to Watson, lend themselves to interesting choreography.
Another challenge for any team — especially one with such a wide range of ages — is to create a program that allows all the skaters to showcase their skills.
"Sometimes that can be a lot of work," Watson said. "But our older skaters were just tremendous role models to the younger ones."
Koehn said the bonds between the teammates will serve them well as they attempt to reach the national championship for the first time.
"That’s the big thing for us," she said. "A few of us have gone in the past to watch, and we’re excited to hopefully be a part of it next year."