Pitt figure skating spins into 2018 competition season


Thomas J. Yang

Jenna Teplitzky, a sophomore history and theater arts major, practices jumps at the Pitt Figure Skating club’s practice Tuesday morning. (Photo by Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor)

By Tessa Sayers, Staff Writer

Jess Lott had her college choices narrowed down to the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Maryland. Her final decision came down to one thing — figure skating.

Lott had been figure skating since she was 6 years old and it was something she wanted to continue in college. Last March, she attended the Carnegie Cup, Carnegie Mellon’s first-ever figure skating competition held at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. She was able to watch both Pitt and Maryland compete and decided shortly after where she would spend her next four years.

“I got to see both skating atmospheres,” Lott said. “And I felt I fit better with the Pitt figure-skating team.”

Two years ago, Lott would not have had the ability to compare Pitt’s club figure-skating team to another school’s — because it didn’t exist.

While the club is still young, it is already making an impact on Pitt and its students. It has given current students the opportunity to skate again and has given future students the opportunity to continue their passion where it wasn’t an option before.

The club was founded by junior exercise science major Cara Murphy when she arrived at Pitt as a first-year in 2016. Murphy also started figure skating when she was 6 years old and wanted a way for her to continue her passion in college.

She began attending the Student Organization Resource Center’s information sessions on starting clubs, and learned she would need at least 10 people before the University could recognize an official club.

“It was pretty difficult,” Murphy said. “Ten doesn’t seem like a lot, but there aren’t a lot of figure skaters to begin with, so finding 10 was a little bit difficult.”

In order to help find 10 people, Murphy enlisted the help of Tenley Brownright, a sixth-year doctoral student studying epidemiology. Brownright and Murphy knew each other from their work coaching youth skaters at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center.

Brownright also had previous experience in collegiate figure skating. While earning her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth University, she played a major role on its club figure-skating team, earning two team and two individual national championships.

After she got some help, Murphy started reaching out to figure skaters she knew who went to Pitt and to coaches in the area. Those coaches, in turn, put her in touch with their former students who now attended Pitt.

“The figure-skating world is small,” Murphy said. “So you know everybody even if you aren’t skating at the same rink.”

By the fall of 2017, they had enough members and submitted the application to become an official club. It was approved in the spring of 2018. Now, less than a year after becoming official, the figure-skating team is up to 19 members.

“I was very surprised with how many people were interested in joining the club,” Murphy said. “We started finding skaters from so many different places like Philadelphia, New York and Virginia that were happy to know that they would be able to continue skating in college.”

All members of the team are expected to practice at least once a week, but many of them practice up to five times a week. Because there is no rink on campus, practicing multiple times a week takes dedication. Members of the club are able to skate at any open figure-skating sessions at the Alpha Ice Complex or the RMU Island Sports Center, but they also have to drive up to an hour and a half just to get there.

Thomas J. Yang
Michelle Nguyen, a junior biology and English writing major, performs a layback spin. (Photo by Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor)

Because they can attend any open skating session, some members are skating at the same places and with the same people they grew up skating with. They also skate with people of all different ages and skill levels. Usually the practices last anywhere from an hour to two hours.

“I’m impressed by how much people make the effort and people want to be a part of this team when it’s not as easy for them,” Brownright said.

The team’s first real competition will be the Violet Competition at New York University in November. The Violet Competition is one of three competitions in the Eastern Division that the team is eligible to compete in. At the end of the competitions, the total points will be calculated and the three teams in the Eastern Division with the most points will receive a bid to nationals held at the University of Delaware.

For many of the skaters, the Violet Competition will be their first time ever competing on a team.

“I’m excited for the change,” Lott said. “It’s a little bit more pressure that you want to do really well so you can support the team and get points for your team. But I think it’s really cool that now we have people behind us, supporting us at the competition and rooting for you.”

In order to be eligible to compete, certain skills are required, like a waltz jump and scratch spin. Thus, the team is prioritizing looking for members who have experience skating and who will be able to compete for them right away, rather than people who are simply looking to skate recreationally.

The club is hoping to grow larger and gain more competitors in the next couple of years. Many figure skaters in the Pittsburgh area weren’t considering Pitt because it didn’t have a figure-skating team, but because of Murphy, that has changed.

“A lot of parents were really happy because … we have a lot of parents who are Pitt alumni and they all want their kids to go to Pitt,” Murphy said. “But their kids really weren’t considering Pitt because we didn’t have figure skating offered. So they’re very grateful that we started this team and they are excited for their kids to join us.”