The University of Arizona is known for a rich history of success when it comes to athletics. The softball program has won eight national titles, men’s basketball has the ninth-highest NCAA winning percentage of all time and just last year women’s golf won its third national title in program history. What many people don’t know is that another championship-level program exists on campus, unnoticed by even the most diehard of fans.
The UA Synchronized Swimming Team is a club sport consisting of nine women. This past season they competed at the U.S. Senior National Championships held in Oro Valley.
“It was amazing,” team captain Ayla Stallworth said. “It was at home so there was so much support. Very high energy and something to remember. A great way to end the season.”
The team practices three to four times a week, breaking the routines into pieces to perfect them as much as possible. Swimmers also wear weight belts in the pool to help improve their movement in the water.
For Stallworth, part of the joy of being on the team is the fact that her mother April Stallworth is also the head coach. It was her mother’s background in the sport that sparked her interest.
“I was always in the pool with her doing it,” Ayla Stallworth said. “When I was old enough to join the team, I did. I have been a part of the sport since I was 5.”
Stallworth is a senior this year and also team captain, giving her added responsibility and duties to carry out.
“A lot of it is just logistics and making sure the team is doing what we need to be doing,” Stallworth said. “I do a lot of paperwork and keep up our relationship with the Rec Center so we can continue doing what we love.”
For April, coaching her daughter can be difficult, but also rewarding.
“It can be hard sometimes, but she is really accepting of it,” April said. “I have to turn mom off and become coach, but I can also be harder on her, because I know her limits.”
For the Stallworth family, synchronized swimming is a way of life. April has another daughter, Alexa, who she also coached at the UA. On top of coaching the club team, she is also a coach for the Tucson Synchro program, meaning she is around the sport non-stop.
“Between the two, I coach seven days a week,” April said. “It is a non-paying position through the UA, but I just enjoy giving back to the sport what it gave me.”
While the schedule is grueling for April, it is also a lot for the swimmers. Mikala Teramoto, who is also a copy editor at the Daily Wildcat, said she got much better at balancing swimming and school this semester.
“I really sucked at it last year,” Teramoto said. “Now I try to get as far ahead on my work as I can, and I plan my days. I get breaks in the middle to do homework. Being organized has definitely been the key.”
The transition into the sport was a little different for Teramoto, as it was her active background the spurred her interest.
“I was an aerialist for five years before coming to college,” Teramoto said. “I knew I wanted to do something active, and I’ve been a performer all my life. My friend Lorenza and I went looking for a club team to join. She liked water, I liked performing, so it was a good mix for us.”
Teramoto is currently rehabbing a shoulder injury, limiting her ability to practice and what she is able to do.
“I’ve actually been out of the pool for a semester,” Teramoto said. “I’ve been doing cardio and then I sit on deck during practice to help coach with whatever. I’m still doing rehab, but I’m allowed back in the pool now. I’m doing light weights to get my shoulder back up.”
April said although they won a title last year, there is not as much pressure to do the same next year.
“It is kind of a rebuilding year,” April said. “Numbers are down a little. We’re just trying to do something everybody loves and have fun with it while hoping for the best outcome.”
The season will go until March, when UA travels to San Antonio to compete in the national championships March 27-30.
Follow Mark Lawson on Twitter