ULM Water Ski dynasty continues

Winning a championship is hard. Building a dynasty is harder and maintaining it is nearly impossible. However, the ULM Water Ski team has been able to do all three. Despite facing numerous obstacles this year, the ski team brought home their 29th national championship last week.
Water ski isn’t for everybody. Most skiers start at a very young age and spend the majority of their formative years working on their craft.
“We’re a rare breed of people that you don’t find very often.” team captain Tom Poole said.
Even though competitive skiers aren’t found often, ULM likes to take this rare breed and turn them into superstars. The school has gained a reputation for it around the world. Just ask Michael Woodgate, graduate assistant from England.
“I chose ULM after having known about the reputation of the school since I entered the competitive water ski scene,” Woodgate said.
Coming into the season, the team faced a series of setbacks that would completely derail other teams.
“Coming into this season, the team had a number of serious 6-month injuries to contend with. Fortunately, the depth of the team enabled us to get through this,” Woodgate added.
The pressure mounted, despite the injuries. ULM was expected to to deliver another national title like they had in the past.
“I lost my first year I came to ULM. When you get back, people don’t ask you ‘Did you win?’, they ask ‘How was the win this year?’. And it sucks having to explain that nationals is seriously tough every year.” Poole noted.
However, when it came time for the season to start, the team banded together and started putting on a show, culminating in a win at regionals and qualifying for nationals.
But, the adversity wasn’t over. A week before nationals, the team encountered a problem that forced them to travel to Zachary, LA to practice.
“We had issues being able to train on the bayou the week before nationals. But, Jay Bennett came through for us, and we owe a lot to Jay for this,” Woodgate said.
Alas, the team pushed on, traveling to Martindale, Texas for the national championship. A three day long event came down to the wire as ULM only led Louisiana-Lafayette by five points going into the last two skiers of the tournament. At that moment, the championship fell on Taylor Garcia’s shoulders.
“Seldom have I ever seen any athlete in any sport as focused as [Garcia] was,” Woodgate said.
“I was a nervous wreck waiting for the last skier! It’s the only tournament I have ever done where the pressure increases the more and more you do it. It’s strange,” Poole added.
Garcia raced toward the jump platform and launched into the air, hitting a jump of 186 feet. And the rest is history.
“Seeing the elation of the team was special. That moment will last a lifetime,” Woodgate said.
The team captured their 29th national championship and their third in a row. The men earned first in slalom, second in trick and second in jump, earning an overall of second.
The women earned third in slalom, third in trick and first in jump, taking first overall.
Hanna Straltsova captured first in jump with 580 points and earned first overall women skier with a total of 1,575 points.
Garcia and teammate Alex King tied for second in slalom with 565 points. Garcia also received first in jump with 550 points and took first overall men’s skier with 1,605 points.
Even though individuals are awarded at nationals, it takes a team to win a championship. And with a team that has so many members from different backgrounds that speak different languages, it can get interesting.
“We are all from different parts of the world and have to work together. I did not have much of an open-minded reasoning before coming here, and the difference of cultures made me improve on that so much,” said Emma Brunel, a water ski team member.
” The team is very diverse and has an individual dynamic that you don’t get with any other team. You get to see people grow and change as a person and learn to see the world from a different point of view,” Poole remarked.
The building of a dynasty is a remarkable accomplishment and has become a source of pride for the university.
“When you consider the greatest dynasties in college sports, no other sport has seen such dominance by one school, and I think that’s something our whole school should be very proud of,” junior atmospheric science major Greg Sova said.
And his sentiments were echoed by assistant professor of communications, Dr. Mara Loeb.
“I taught a member of the team in a class last year and her stories about competing through injury pain reminded me that they may make it look fun, but it is pure athleticism. My big question is how do the other teams feel when facing the winner of 29 championships? Helpless, hopeless, or just in awe of our team?” Loeb said.
Every team has a story to tell. Every team has their obstacles to face. And every college believes that their team is the best. However, Tom Poole said it best.
“ULM is the best place in the world to come to college and train as a water skier.”