Zheng Zhang

The Yale club synchronized swimming team hosted its very first home meet on Saturday afternoon in the Kiphuth Exhibition Pool — a testament to how far the small, yet determined group of women have come in the past two years.

“We wrote the history of synchronized swimming and Yale University,” head coach Petra Cacic wrote in an email to opposing coaches Monday morning with the results of the meet.

The Bulldogs placed fourth Saturday and defeated fifth-place Wheaton College. Ohio State — whom Cacic called the best collegiate program in the country in a call with the News — claimed a first-place finish. Five judges scored the event, and the Buckeyes’ final total of 88 points secured them a comfortable margin of victory. Boston University and Penn placed second and third, scoring 59 and 58 points respectively.

Although Yale ultimately finished fourth with 50 points, judges evaluated its team routine to be the second strongest at the invitational. In addition to competing in solo and duet events, the Bulldogs scored a 61.5 in the team event, falling about a dozen points short of Ohio State but nearly establishing double-digit separation from the Quakers and Terriers. Another notable achievement for Yale was its third-place finish in the duet segment with Grace Chen ’21 and Rada Pavlova ’22. The duo secured a score of 64.53 — around five points shy of Ohio’s two top couples who took the first and second spots.

Chen and Ayeza Bajwa ’20 originally founded the club team, which currently consists of eight swimmers, in the fall of 2017.

“As a young team started by two girls who were very passionate about the sport, having our first home meet shows that all the time and effort put into starting off a club from scratch has paid off,” Pavlova said. “It is extremely hard to run a sports club on the side at Yale, especially one that has never existed before and of a sport that is not very familiar to people. Still, our goals for the team are to get more people exposed to synchronized swimming and show everyone the intensity of training and preparation that goes into building and performing a routine, while also having a lot of fun on the way.”

Last February, the club team hosted an exhibition meet where three guest teams — Smith, Penn and Wheaton — met at Payne Whitney Gymnasium to showcase their skills. Since the gathering was not a competitive meet, no judges were in attendance.

The competition in New Haven marked the first of two meets for the Bulldogs last weekend. On Sunday, the Elis traveled to Norton, Massachusetts to compete at a meet hosted by Wheaton College. The same teams participated — except for Penn — and Ohio State once again finished first. Cacic said the Buckeyes’ B team was the one that competed in New England this weekend. The Elis finished third place in the team event out of four at Wheaton, while Chen and Pavlova placed third of five in the duet event.

“It was really good,” Cacic said regarding Sunday’s competition at Wheaton. “I was really happy [with] how they swam. Of course they were tired because yesterday was [an] exciting day for them because it was at home … [The] priority is for them to get a sense of what [placement] is, especially for girls who just started, and Yale is a school that is pretty demanding, so it’s really great they’re putting a huge effort to make it work.”

In collegiate synchro, judges grade routines on execution, artistic impression and difficulty. Judges at Yale’s event Saturday offered a rating between one and 10 for each category before averaging their five individual scores into a group mark. Finally, the group mark is weighted by the importance of each category to form the ultimate event score. Artistic impression composes 40 percent of the score, while execution and difficulty each make up 30 percent.

Chen and Erin Bailey ’23 each competed solo for Yale, earning their highest marks in the artistic impression category. With eight total participants, Bailey finished fifth in the event, while Chen finished seventh.

In the duet event, the duos of Bajwa and Jasmine Stone ’20 as well as Chen and Pavlova also saw the most success in artistic impression, whereas the full team — Bailey, Bajwa, Chen, Stone, Pavlova, Celia Gazepi ’22, Kat Melnyk ’22 and Grace Cajski ’23 — scored highest in execution.

Though the group is only two years old and began competing last academic year, the Bulldogs have hopes for a varsity future.

“It would be amazing to see this club continue and grow and accomplish more after we graduate, and it would be great to see the team become varsity one day,” Chen said. “That’s definitely far in the future, but Coach Petra has helped us grow so much just this past season … we are really grateful to have her.”

Cacic told the News that while she has little experience with American collegiate sports because she is originally from Croatia, she is working on a way for the team to secure varsity status. Whether that happens in one year or five, she cannot be sure, the coach said. Cacic coached in New Canaan before coming to Yale this season.

The club also aspires to compete on a national level. Plans were in place for the Bulldogs to take part in this year’s national championships held in Arizona over the last weekend of March, yet time constraints, among other obstacles, prevent the Elis from attending this season, which Cacic said would have entailed missing three days of class. Next year, however, competing in the championships is a definite goal for the Blue and White.

“It really was a historic day for our young club, especially with such strong visiting teams in attendance,” Chen wrote in an email to the News. “Ohio State University was the 2019 Collegiate National Champions, Wheaton is another one of the mere four varsity programs in the nation, and BU and UPenn are club programs with decades of history.”

Stanford, Ohio State, University of the Incarnate Word and Wheaton are the current four varsity programs in the United States.

Margaret Hedeman | margaret.hedeman@yale.edu

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu