April 11, 2017
Story originally published on SwimmingWorldMagazine.com
By Dax Lowery, Swimming World Contributor.
Emma Baranski could not ask for a better ending to her collegiate career.
The Ohio State senior captain was competing in her final meet, the U.S. Collegiate Synchronized Swimming Championships, last month in OSU’s McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion. She looked up at the stands and found inspiration in the hundreds of alumni and family members supporting the Buckeyes. She felt like she was swimming for the fans.
“Never in a million years did I think I would walk out of the competition winning four national titles,” she said. “The entire day was a dream come true.”
Solo champion. Duet champion. Team champion. And to top it off, she helped lead the Buckeyes to their 30th national title, their second in the past three years.
“We knew that she was capable of having an amazing performance that day because the potential outcome was literally building all season,” OSU coach Holly Vargo Brown said. “But I don’t think anyone was truly ready for the extra special moment of combining that great swim with our huge and loyal home-crowd group of fans. It felt electric – excellence and emotion all wrapped into one.”
Although elite synchro athletes make it look easy, it’s not. Not even close; some liken synchro to running a marathon while holding your breath and smiling. And then to compete in three different event finals on the same day? Baranski knew she had to go to work.
“Swimming three separate programs in one day can be extremely difficult,” she said. “You have hundreds of different focuses and corrections for each routine. I have definitely learned how to compartmentalize each routine and be able to move on from event to event quickly regardless of the outcomes.”
And that Baranski did. As a result, she won the Individual High Point Award, earned All-American status and was named Collegiate Athlete of the Year. She finished her OSU career as a four-time All-American, a two-time solo champion, a duet champion, the owner of numerous academic awards and a member of two Buckeye national title-winning teams.
“It has been such an honor to represent Ohio State as a synchro swimmer,” she said. “I look at those accomplishments and immediately think about my team and how much they have supported my journey over the past four years. I could not have done anything without them.”
Added Vargo Brown: “I have heard her say that she feels every one of her teammates is an extraordinary person, which I think speaks volumes to the personal connection she has made with each member of her team.”
USA Synchro CEO Myriam Glez said Baranski is a natural performer who impressed the fans and judges.
“She has great height in vertical and fantastic barracuda,” Glez said. “Most of all, she has an amazing presentation and is really engaged with the audience. She is definitely an enjoyable swimmer to watch.”
With a perfect ending out of the way, Baranski eyes a new beginning as a member of the U.S. Senior National Squad. She was named to the squad after selection camps last November and will start training full-time in California in May. She’s already completed several lengthy training camps with the squad and knows the workload is about to increase.
“The training is different than college training because the hours are a lot longer,” she said. “The maximum amount of hours you can train a day in college is four. With the national team, a typical training day lasts eight to 10 hours. This transition can be extremely tough, but it’s not something I haven’t done before.”
“She is a solid player for the senior team, especially for the technical team,” Glez said. “She is very creative and contributes well to the choreography process.”
Baranski got her start in synchro in her hometown of Hamden, Conn. She was a dancer when she was younger and was looking for a sport that involved teamwork and had an artistic side. Synchro fit the bill. She swan with the local club, the Hamden Heronettes, and was eventually recognized on a national level when she was named to the U.S. 13-15 National Team in 2010.
She’s kept on dancing, though, as her synchro career has progressed. She has studied dance for almost 16 years and will have a minor in dance from OSU.
“Dance is my passion in life, and my biggest dream is to own a dance studio,” she said. “After graduation I hope to be a synchronized swimmer/dance in the Las Vegas (aquatic) show, ‘Le Reve.’”
Her dance skills have only benefitted her in the pool, according to Vargo Brown.
“Emma is one of the most talented all-around athletes that has competed for Ohio State,” Vargo Brown said. “Her background as a dancer has allowed her to have an extremely solid knowledge of how to use her body in the most effective ways for execution, height and overall expression of movement.”
For now, her focus will be on the national squad as it prepares for the top event of the year, the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in July.
“This competition can determine how well we will be doing for the next four years,” she said. “I hope that we can improve in placement at Worlds and present the world with a routine full of pride and artistry.
“I think the United States has the power to change the sport and do something different, and I can’t wait to see our end result.”