National Qualifier at Y

Synchronized swim teams from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York competed at the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter in a regional meet this past weekend. Jack Graves

    As the first regional synchronized swimming meet ever to be held here was under way at the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter Saturday evening, Vinnie Preiss, whose wife, Meg, coaches East Hampton’s Synchro Swans, said, “You know, this is harder than regular swimming.”
    “Actually,” continued the former Montauk Rugby Club winger and soccer goalie, “I’d love to get our rugby team together with these kids for a fund-raiser. These girls would get a kick out of it.”
    Meg Preiss, who was a synchronized swimmer at the University of Arizona and who was nationally ranked in the sport when she was at East Hampton High School (and trained in Gurney’s undersized pool wearing an eight-pound belt to eliminate the salt water’s buoyancy) agrees.
    “You have to have flexibility, endurance, and a lot of core strength in addition to basic swimming ability,” said the Swans’ coach, who began synchro swimming at the age of 4. “And there’s a lot to remember  — the music, the routines, the figure component . . . and you have to have something of the showman in you. If I’m judging ‘manner of presentation’ and I see someone looking at me and smiling, it means that they’re not just doing a rote routine, something that’s been memorized.”
    While she has a rather large group at the Y this year — 18 under-12s and 4 13-to-19s — Preiss’s team was greatly outnumbered by the teams brought by the visitors, three from Pennsylvania and one from New Jersey.
    Still, East Hampton did well, she reported on Monday. “Our 11-and-12s placed third, and thus qualified for the nationals [to be held in Seattle, Wash., at the end of June]. Catherine [Musnicki], our 15-to-17 soloist, placed second, and also qualified for the national meet. And Keriann Fitzpatrick, who’s been at a boarding school which doesn’t have a pool, will be able to compete at nationals too, in a duet with Catherine and as a soloist. . . . I’ve had these two the longest. They’ve always made nationals.”
    “Our little ones, the 10-and-unders, placed second out of two teams, but if you’d seen them in the meet we went to three weeks ago, you’d realize how much they’ve improved. It was almost night and day. They’ve been paying attention and working hard. . . . They really did well at the beginning [of Saturday’s routine]. They knew what to do and where to go, but then it became a little baffling. But it was good for them.”
    “All in all,” she said, it had been “a busy, busy weekend against tough competition,” which was fueled by food from Brent’s, Claws on Wheels, Hampton Bagels, Foodys, Nick & Toni’s, and Tee Bushman.
    East Hampton’s under-12s comprise Catalina Badilla, Kailey Soloviev, Syndey Soloviev, Brylinn Bushman, Kassidy Brabant, Kailee Brabant, Kasey Brabant, Greer Costello, Lauren Zaino, Diana Winthrop, Kerrie McCaffrey, Nicole Realmuto, Alexandra Vecchio, Danielle Futterman, Vanessa Betancur, and Carolina Ortega, plus two boys, Nick and Joe Badilla.
    “They have boys competing in California and in the Midwest, but this is a first for me,” said Preiss, who began coaching synchronized swimming “when the Y opened its doors, about a decade ago.”
    When this writer remarked that the two boys were smart to pick a sport where the girls were, she said, “They’re not only smart, but brave. I give them a lot of credit. It doesn’t affect them. They’ve done really well. Nick just turned 6 this year, and his brother is 8. I don’t have them swim with the girls; they do a duet together. . . . The girls on the other teams, which don’t have boys, are jealous.”
    Meg Preiss can also number her three daughters, Brianna, Shaina, and Marina, among her protegees.
    The eldest, Brianna, who’s a junior at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., competed in a national water polo tournament at Notre Dame University this past week.
    “She’s also on the swim and synchro teams there,” said her father. “She’s done three sports three years in a row, and her coach wants her also to dive next season, which she’s never done before. She was the school’s female aquatics athlete of the year. They’ve been to the nationals in all three sports. If she does four aquatic sports next year, she’ll be the first to do so.”
    Shaina, who now plays volleyball at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., and Marina, who recently recorded the third-best 50 freestyle time among the 13 to 14-year-old contestants at the Y.M.C.A. nationals, help their mother coach the younger kids.
    The Synchro Swans practice four times a week at the Y,  for several hours each time. “Sometimes we’re in the pool with the masters swimming group. They’ll look at the kids and just shake their heads. As if to say, ‘We couldn’t do that.’ ”