When Jaime Kalnicky and Danette Trett founded the Ice Denettes five years ago, they aimed to bring the sport they grew up loving to youth in the Valley.
As the state’s first and only synchronized skate team, the two saw exponential growth within their program. In 2019, just three years after forming the program, Kalnicky, Trett and the rest of the coaching staff brought four teams to the Synchronized Fall Classic in Irvine, Calif.
It was the first major competition for all teams that competed. But that didn’t stop the youngest age group from placing first and the other three from obtaining a medal.
“That was the only competition we did as a team up until this year,” Kalnicky said. “So to be back and to watch kids work together and be happy, it’s so rewarding. It’s a way different community than anything I’ve been a part of as far as ice skating.”
The pandemic placed a hold on the program in 2020 until they were able to return in 2021 with some sign of normalcy. Even then, however, Kalnicky said it took time for the program to rebuild.
But it did. And in a big way.
The Ice Denettes sent three teams to compete in the 2022 Midwest and Pacific Coast Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships from Jan. 26-30 in Kalamazoo, Mich. It was the first time the three teams – Harmony in Pre-Juvenile, Synergy in Open Juvenile and Affinity in Intermediate – competed on a national stage that big.
Synergy, which is designated for skaters ages 10-18, placed third overall to take the bronze medal in Open Juvenile. Harmony, designated for skaters ages 10-16, placed fifth in Pre-Juvenile.
Affinity, which includes skaters ages 11-20, is the only division able to move on from the sectional championships to nationals. The team placed fifth overall, narrowly missing the podium. As a result, the team was named as the first alternate should one of the top four teams not be able to make it to nationals.
“That is really huge. Of course, there’s so much these skater gain that is intangible and doesn’t have that label on it,” said Jacqueline Benson, a coach for the Ice Denettes. “But it’s extremely validating for the leaders in the program and for the skaters to have that concrete thing that indicates how much their hard work has paid off. I think it’s wonderful how it will help the program continue to grow as other skaters start to see synchronized skating as a path in the sport.”
The Ice Denettes also feature two younger “synchro skills” teams. Rising Stars is designated for skaters ages 6 to 9, while Unity caters to skaters who are just beginning in the sport. Neither team competed in Michigan alongside the older age groups, but they did compete in the 2021 Synchronized Fall Classic in Irvine in November. Unity placed second and Rising Stars third in that competition.
The team is composed of skaters from all over the Valley, including seven from Ahwatukee. Among those are Desert Vista sophomore Abbi Parks, Corona del Sol sophomore Jaclyn Fusaro and two recent Desert Vista grads, Alexandra VanLare (2020) and Hailey Nelson (2021), who now both attend Arizona State University.
Benson, who also skated for Arizona State, said the comradery between the girls has been special, despite their age difference. They all have become friends on and off the ice, with the older girls giving advice at times to those who are younger.
“It’s really so special for me to see, not only as their coach but from a personal level,” Benson said. “Skating is really traditionally an individual sport. Even friendships, while meaningful, in some instances can only reach a certain point. But through team skating from my own experience and coaching, it’s really awesome to see skaters learn how to work as a team.
“This program is absolutely the most amazing thing I’ve been involved with.”
The team has created its own sense of community within that of Ahwatukee. They’ve even gone as far as coming together for a better cause.
In December, the Ice Denettes partnered with a moving company and took toy donations for the Hopi Reservation. Kalnicky said 12,000 pounds of toys were donated, a monumental feat.
“It was awesome. So many people got behind that,” Kalnicky said. “We were able to give the Hopi Reservation all of those toys. It was nice to get the kids behind a community project and do something good for people who needed it.”
Coming off of yet another milestone for the program, the Ice Denettes will now take time to “catch their breath,” according to Kalnicky. She said she will give her skaters some time off before regrouping and recruiting more skaters beginning in April.
She hopes to further expand the program and create additional teams that will extend into those in adulthood. She experienced first-hand the opportunities synchronized skating can bring. Now, she wants to do the same for others.
“We’re excited,” Kalnicky said. “We’re picking costumes and music and then we are going to field as many teams as we can for next season. We’ll go basically from basic skating to senior and adults. However many people we get, we are going to try to put teams together to bring even more to nationals.”
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