Montclair State launches competitive figure skating team

It all started when Mikah Diaz enrolled in her first figure skating class at Montclair State University.

The 20-year-old psychology major wanted to take a break from all her intensive pre-med classes. Figure skating seemed like the right solution. And it turned out to be natural.

The class is part of the university’s physical education department, and it wasn’t long before her teacher for the class, two-time Olympian Kristen Fraser-Lukanin, approached her with a proposal – would she be interested in joining? a figure skating club at the University?

There was a caveat. Diaz had to organize the club from scratch.

“I said, ‘You know what? I will,” Diaz recalled.

His logic was simple. Diaz wanted other students to have the opportunity to fall in love with figure skating, as she had. She also wanted to break the stigma that you have to learn to skate as a young child in order to do so competitively as an adult – because, if things go as planned, club members will soon have the chance to compete. against other college teams.

The university’s figure skating club is part of a larger initiative led by those who run the Montclair State Ice Arena in Little Falls, which became university property in 2020. This has opened the door to more of investments in ice sports, such as figure skating, to develop pipelines that could offer an athlete training from youth to college level in one place.

“I think every rink probably tries to have a foot in every department,” said Fraser-Lukanin, who is also the arena’s figure skating director. “Obviously you need recreational skaters to develop competitive skaters. If you have elite, there’s the motivation behind everyone in the younger programs.

The Montclair Ice Arena is managed by Firland Management, which won a tender. Rita Mitchell, the rink’s general manager, attributes the change in ownership to a move toward finding more opportunities for student skaters.

“They really push the programs for the students as much as they can,” Mitchell said. “Now everything is integrated and it will be much easier for us to grow because we have a direct line to the university.”

The change in ownership also helps other programs, including the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams at Montclair State Clubs. Hockey teams previously struggled to get prime ice times for their games, according to Mitchell. But now games are scheduled at more ideal times for student-athletes, which could lead to better student body recruitment, retention and participation, Mitchell said.

“We’re lucky that of all the dorms, kids can walk here,” Mitchell said. “Even many Division III collegiate hockey programs don’t have a rink right on campus and they have to go to a local rink. … It should also attract skaters and hockey players.

“Illustrious” coaching staff

Fraser-Lukanin was hired by Montclair State in January to lead its ice skating class. The former competitive ice dancer described the appointment as a “huge honour” and a natural next step in her storied career, which has taken her to national competitions and two Olympics with her partner and now husband, Igor Lukanin.

The duo started skating together in 2000. They competed in the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, representing Azerbaijan. They now run Krigor Dance and Krigor Studio, a subsidiary of their main business that offers virtual lessons and programs for ice skaters. Since 2008, Fraser-Lukanin has served as Director of Figure Skating at the Little Falls Arena. The couple now live in Livingston with their two children.

Fraser-Lukanin’s coaching resume mirrors that of other coaches at the arena. Longtime Paramus resident and three-time Olympian-turned-coach Galit Chait-Moracci often coaches elite skaters there, including three Israeli national team ice dancers who competed in the 2022 Winter Olympics. in Beijing. Chait-Moracci also used the rink for training ahead of the 2006 Games.

(L to R) Montclair State University students Sandra Berrios, Kayla Stewart and Mikah Diaz skate during a figure skating class at MSU Ice Arena on Monday, March 14, 2022.

“I think we are lucky at Montclair State Arena to have a very illustrious coaching staff. We have a lot of former Olympians. We have a lot of Olympic coaches,” Fraser-Lukanin said. “You just have to look at both sides of the ice — you have national and international coaches.

“We travel the world and travel the country for competitions and you get to know each other,” she said. “And people ask, ‘Which rink do you train at? “”

Even though Fraser-Lukanin has only been a teacher at Montclair State for three months, she is considering ways to make the figure skating program a destination for students who want to take advantage of the school’s burgeoning resources.

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“We have a few freshmen who come here primarily for this rink and for the figure skating – and knowing there will be a potential competitive figure skating team, they kind of sealed the deal for them,” she said. “There aren’t many colleges in the United States that are really known for their figure skating teams, and we’re hoping to put ourselves on that map.”

Arena officials hope to see skaters from the university’s new figure skating club competing by next school year, after training with Fraser-Lukanin this spring. The competition could take place as early as this fall, with the ultimate goal of having the team represent Montclair State at all three college-level competitions held each year on the East Coast.

Kristen Fraser-Lukanin leads a figure skating class at Montclair State University Ice Rink on Monday, March 14, 2022.

The club would join an exclusive collegiate figure skating community in New Jersey. Princeton University is the only school in the state with a college-level skating team, according to a list of college skating opportunities compiled by US Figure Skating. Deana Sroka, the arena’s director of skating, said the hope is that the team will skate through to national competitions.

On a recent Thursday, the Montclair Skate ice skating class led by Fraser-Lukanin was sold out. The students began the morning class with routine tricks and exercises, as music blared from the arena speakers. By the end of the course, the students had progressed to higher-level tasks, such as jumping while skating. Some students slid on the ice faster than others, but none that day tripped and fell.

Diaz, who is leading the launch of the university’s figure skating club, alternated seamlessly between tasks as Fraser-Lukanin shouted instructions to the students. While she’s improved this semester, Diaz says the rest of the class has, too, including several who are also club members.

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All of their progress happened through one simple step, she said — just doing it.

“I see the progress that everyone else in the club is making, every other student, and I can see how much they’re loving it and how comfortable they feel on the ice right now,” said Diaz. “They really do things that they wouldn’t have been able to do if they hadn’t come on the ice.

Melanie Anzidei is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @melanieanzidei

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