This Friday and Saturday, 55 of the best 14-to-18 year old synchronized swimmers in the nation will assemble in Walnut Creek, Calif., with hopes of taking the next step towards becoming a national team member.
Of those 55 elite athletes, Juneau-Douglas High School sophomores Koko Urata and Sarah Felix will be there.
The two will be competing in the U.S. Synchronized Swimming Phase II Junior National Team Trials this weekend. Synchronized swimming's governing body will choose 20 athletes on Friday to compete two weeks later for spots on the national team.
"It's a competition in a sense that you are against the other girls to get top places and you're being judged," Felix said, "but you have to have certain requirements you audition for and you have to meet a certain standard. If you don't meet those standards you can't move on."
Throughout the year, Felix and Urata competed together as a duet. The two 15-year-olds represented the Juneau Aurora Knights synchronized swimming club in different regional competitions and recently performed at the U.S. Open, which featured top teams from throughout the world.
This weekend's competition is very different then what Felix and Urata are used to doing.
Both will be critiqued individually by a group of five judges from the U.S. Synchronized Swimming Association.
On Friday, the girls will perform standards.
Swimmers will be judged on how still they can maintain a split on the water and how high they can keep their legs above water. They will also be judge on left and right splits, where one leg is straight up in the air while the other rests on the water.
Judges mark the competitors' thighs with lines parallel to the water. The higher the line is above the water, the better the standard.
After the standards test, the swimmers return Saturday to perform figures, or different maneuvers in the water. Five judges give the figure a score from 1-to-10, with the highest and lowest score being thrown out. The average of the remaining three scores becomes the determining mark.
"You get judged by five judges on certain movements in the water," Urata said. "Everything is slow so it's not like what we normally do, so it's kind of boring."
If Urata or Felix make the top 20, they will then qualify for the Phase III competition held in Portland, Ore., in mid-November.
The Phase III competition will determine who will become a U.S. junior national team member and represent the country in international competitions.
Despite the high stakes, Urata and Felix feel relaxed about this weekend's national team audition.
"Compared to other competitions, I don't think it's as stressful because you don't have to do a routine," Urata said. "It brings us to a higher stage."
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