Under new coach Kathy Henderson, the Ponies synchronized swim team isn’t missing a beat.
Stillwater’s synchronized swimming team, which is usually among the state’s best, is off to an unbeaten start this season. The team includes (front row) Katie Koenning, Vessa Pearsall and Andrea Rustad; (middle row) Sami Sonnee, Sophie Barnes and Elise Adrian; and (back row) Skyler Olson, Claire Haws and Mariah Smith.
Stillwater synchronized swimming has carried a rich tradition of success. With first-year head coach Kathy Henderson, the Ponies don’t intend to change.
Stillwater has won 18 state championships. The Ponies finished second in the team standings at the state meet last year. As evidenced by the team’s 3-0 start in figures-only meets, it’s business as usual for the Ponies.
“The 3-0 is exactly how we wanted to start the season, and we’re hoping to continue that,” Henderson said.
Henderson has deep ties to the program. She swam for the Ponies for four years in high school, which included a state championship her senior year. Henderson spent 19 years as an assistant coach for the Ponies from 1993 to 2011.
Taking over the reins has been a blast.
“It’s fun to kind of be in charge now,” said Henderson, who also swam for the Gophers for three years and coached the University of Minnesota synchro team for six. “Hopefully, we can continue the success that we’ve had over the years.”
Another new face to the Ponies is senior Mariah Smith, who has been nothing short of impressive. She has been competing in club synchronized swimming since she was young, but decided to come out for the high school team this year.
That club experience has provided her strong technique in her figures and her solos. The figures she has to do with the club program are actually more difficult than what she has to do in high school. It shows. She won each of her first three high school figures meets with scores of 64.610, 62.890 and 65.807.
“She’s ahead of the game there,” Henderson said.
Even though Smith is new to the team, she was thrust into a leadership role, and she has fit in well. She also has provided a big boost to an already deep and talented lineup.
Skyler Olson, Elise Adrian, Emily Adrian, Claire Haws, Vessa Pearsall, Katie Koenning and Grace Gualtieri and Sophie Barnes have been solid along with team captain Sami Sonnee. The strength of this year’s team is in the short division, where the Ponies have 20 swimmers competing.
The extended team, which includes eight girls, looks to make another run at state.
“As a group of eight — and you really have to lump them together when you’re talking about synchronized swimming — the eight of them are doing really well,” Henderson said. “Most of them were on the extended team last year, and they came in second.”
The Ponies lost four seniors from that extended team, but Smith and others have filled in. They expect to compete well throughout the rest of the season.
Stillwater beat Osseo/Maple Grove 23-6 to start Henderson’s head-coaching career off with a victory. The Ponies then beat Forest Lake, a strong Suburban East competitor, 20-9. The Ponies shut out Richfield 29-0 in their last figures meet of the season. They spent the following week preparing for routines by working on choreography. With routines now in full swing, Stillwater has a chance to show off that choreography from their 23 total routines with 34 girls.
“Choreography is a huge part of it, and we’re pretty much finishing up with that right now,” Henderson said.
Stillwater hosted its annual Water Show on Saturday, which gave all the girls to show off their skills to family and friends. The section tournament will be May 17-18 at Richfield and the state meet will take place June 8.
The Ponies hope to be there.
“The girls are really working hard,” Henderson said. “I have very high expectations for them and they have very high expectations for themselves.”