Last weekend was a weekend of firsts for Tessa Hubbell, Jessica Johnson and Lisa Dahlke at the U.S. Open in Tucson, Ari.
But in those short few days at the international synchronized swimming event, they more than proved they belonged with some of the best in the world.
Hubbell, Johnson and Team Alberta narrowly missed out on the senior team gold medal, finishing with silver, while Dahlke and the junior team finished solidly in fourth.
The senior swimmers batted neck and neck with a more experienced Santa Clara, Calif., team, but a slightly stronger technical score edged the Americans into the gold-medal position.
But what was accomplished by the Albertans was not lost on them.
“I wasn’t really sure where we stood against the American competition, we did have a shot at gold, but second is real good for us, especially with it being Alberta and our first provincial team,” said Johnson.
“It sets really high standards for next year.”
It was the first year the Alberta team had come together, pulling the 10 best swimmers from Red Deer, Edmonton and Calgary for both squads based on their performances at provincials, westerns and nationals.
They spent the last month practising six times a week to get their routines down and develop some chemistry. The team also included the Red Deer Synchronized Swim Club head coach Jaime Thompson as an assistant coach.
Competing internationally was a first for all of them.
“It was a real unique experience getting to compete at an International competition,” said Hubbell, 18.
“We had never seen any of the teams because we weren’t competing with anyone from Canada, so we really had no idea heading in what we were up against.”
The junior team found themselves in a division stocked with strong Canadian teams — Alberta was one of three in the top four, with Ontario finishing first and Quebec second — but they still put in a strong showing.
“It was good just to compete along side our fellow Canadians and just do so well against the Americans,” said Dahlke, 16.
More than anything this was a learning experience for them.
Not only did they get their very first taste of competition at this level, but they also got to see how much synchronized swimming varies from region-to-region.
“It was real exciting to see what everyone else in the world were doing. You got new ideas from all of the different clubs and you got to meet new people,” said Dahlke.
“Americans in general usually do a lot of stuff in presenting themselves with real high height. They like to do lots of high arm movements and us from Alberta we like to do things with our legs more than our arms. We’re usually upside down more and they’re upright more.”
One of the big things the local swimmers had to get used to was swimming outdoors — an experience they quite enjoyed.
“It was really different from anything we experienced while competing or training,” said Hubbell. “With the lighting you see way better under water when it’s outside, so it was totally a different atmosphere.”
Hubbell said she will be taking another run at the team next year, in fact she will be taking the year off from school to focus on swimming. After the past month, it is something she is not ready to let go of.
“I’ll be swimming in Red Deer again next year, but it was quite an experience working with different coaches and swimming with different girls — some of the best girls in Alberta.”
For Johnson, Hubbell’s teammate of three years, it is a little bit of a different story.
While she is not 100 per cent sure, there is a good chance her performance at the U.S. Open could be her swan song.
“I might compete again, but I’m undecided for now,” said Johnson.
“I’ll basically be working as a life guard full time, and work towards being a synchronized swimming coach.”
But she also sees this as just the beginning for Red Deer swimmers on the international stage.
“Red Deer is full of potential with a lot of swimmers coming up,” said Hubbell. “Who knows, maybe they’ll surpass what we’ve been able to attain.”