The Varsity Blues Synchronized Skating team competes at OUAs. Sneha Dasgupta/THE VARSITY

In a win that was 25 years in the making, the Varsity Blues figure skating team claimed the 2015-2016 OUA banner last week at Varsity Arena. The competition saw the Blues defeat four-time defending champions Western by a margin of 27 points.        

It was an unexpected victory for the Blues, considering that this is head coach Ashley Hui’s inaugural season.             

After completing her bachelors of science at the University of British Columbia, Hui came to U of T to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical communications. It is this decision Hui credits as the first of many that started her journey towards coaching the team. “Schooling paved the way to me having… this opportunity,”  said Hui, adding, “ I never expected like a year ago, two years ago that I’d be coaching…it was just the way everything fell in[to] place.”         

After trying out for the Blues figure skating team on whim in 2013, Hui joined the team and took home two OUA medals in her career (one of which was a silver medal at last year’s competition with teammate Kaitlyn Liu in the intermediate similar pairs competition.) “If it wasn’t for biomedical communications, I wouldn’t have tried out for varsity,”  said Hui who laughingly added, “and three years later I guess I’m coaching now.”             

Like many athletes who come to the end of their career and decide to try their hand at coaching, the transition was a big change for Hui who, as a head coach, is now responsible for navigating team dynamics while managing a surprising amount of administrative work.

“The moment you start coaching you realize that you really have to be a people person and have to check in with every person on your team,” said Hui.

She summed up the transition from competitor to coach by remarking on the difference in preparing for a competition. She recalls something as simple as not bringing her skates to competition as an event that really made the contrast hit home: “I headed into my first competition as a coach and I kept on packing my bags but I kept on thinking they felt really naked and I was like what am I missing,” Hui remarked. “You always tell your athletes, ‘remember to bring your skates to the competition,’ so when you don’t have them when you’re so used to that, it’s a really big change.”             

Despite the bittersweet transition, Hui took to coaching immediately, remarking that coming into the season she had a plan for some specific changes to the program she wanted to make, as well as the type of team she wanted to create. “I knew going into it…there were things I needed to change,” she said. “Overall I think that I needed to refocus the team and help them really just focus on their training and so that they can train effectively.”

As a former varsity athlete, Hui came into the position with an understanding of the structural changes that needed to be made — starting with the team’s atmosphere. “Every single person I can confidently say enjoyed training and being a part of the team…and being a former athlete I think those were the things that we really, really wanted to emphasize,” said Hui.             

Improving last seasons OUA performance by 50 points, the Blues’ win on Tuesday confirms that Hui is doing something right. “I think going into OUA’s I had a better grasp of where the team stood amongst the other schools and yeah, I think the team was really, really relaxed” said Hui, adding that her motto for the year — training smart, not hard — paid off in the end. “We definitely pulled through and kept our heads down and that’s all that we needed to do.”             

By the end of the two-day competition, the Blues had amassed nine medals — five of which were gold — and tallied 92 points. When asked about who some of the key performers during the competition were, Hui laughs and, after naming almost half of her roster, says that every athlete played an important role in the banner win, even athletes who didn’t enjoy podium finishes.

“Everyone had their own place even if in standings they weren’t the top they were one of the top and so it’s all about consistency,” she said.              

When asked about her goals for next season and if she sees herself with the Blues long term, Hui explained she is excited to tackle the challenges that another season may bring. “The Varsity Blues program has been extremely accommodating and supportive this year with the changes that have happened in varsity figure skating,” she said. “It would be ideal to provide my athletes with a post-season to avoid injury and wind down in a manner equivalent to the way the season has progressed; unfortunately, we have yet to secure any ice time since the OUA Championship.”

Despite the red-tape, Hui said that coaching a squad like the Blues figure skating team is all about balance, and recognized that there may come a time when the team outgrows her. However, for now, she is enjoying the success of her team and looking forward to next season. “It’s going to be a fine balance finding out when that time will come, but… for now I’d say like we’re [doing] well for a new team with new growth.”

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