UCLA Adds Artistic Swimming Club

by Alyssa Jacobs, USA Artistic Swimming

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Last week it was announced that UCLA has agreed to officially support a club artistic swimming program. This addition marks a huge step forward for collegiate artistic swimming, still called synchronized swimming at some institutions, across the United States. 

The collegiate athletics landscape provides supporta viable pathway and sometimes an alternative option for many Olympic sports in our country. UCLA is the latest addition to the movement to grow artistic swimming at all levels, in this case collegiately, joining Texas Woman’s University as the newest programs. After an unfortunate trend where many collegiate programs were discontinued, these additions represent hope and a bright future for the sport.

Head coach Hiea-Yoon Kang is leading the way alongside UCLA student Ainsleigh Douglasthe Club President.Both individuals have rich backgrounds in artistic swimming. Hiea-Yoon has 16 years of coaching under her belt having served as longtime head coach of her own club as well as all contributing to all levels of the national team program.You can read more about her accomplishments HEREShe said her desire to grow the sport and the opportunity at UCLA seemed like a natural fit.

It always bothered me that we didn’t have a collegiate program in Los Angeles, so starting a program in Southern California was definitely something that I have wanted to do for many years. I already knew of four UCLA students with artistic swimming backgrounds, so it was a no brainer to reach out to this group. UCLA is a wonderful university with a strong aquatics program and easily seemed like a great fit to bring collegiate artistic swimming to SoCal,” Hiea-Yoon said. 

Ainsleigh competed with southern California artistic swimming teams since she was eight years old. During her career, she has been a finalist at U.S. nationals, medaled at Junior Olympic Championships and competed at U.S. Opens. She said when it came time for her to make a decision about what to do after high school graduation, she was forced to choose between continuing in her sport or enrolling in a school that had her ideal educational programDesign Media Arts with a minor in Digital Humanities. Ainsleigh said it has always been a dream of hers to combine her love for UCLA with her love for artistic swimming. When Hiea-Yoon reached out, the UCLA junior was elated about the possibility of creating a club as well as the opportunity to have such a high-caliber coach lead them. 

The process got rolling last July when the collective submitted its application to be a club. Of course, the pandemic slowed the process but once the review process began it took about eight weeks to hear a final decision. During the evaluation period, the elected officials of the club attended several meetings via Zoom with the UCLA Club Sports Executive Council. Representatives successfully presented and educated the council about the sport of artistic swimming and, in a time where evaluations for new additions are met with increased scrutiny, they were successful. 

Currently, the club is looking to build a strong base of UCLA students with an artistic swimming background. Now that the club is officially approved, they will also begin talking to incoming first-year students and sharing more information via their social channels to educate prospective students about the opportunityThe practice schedule will be crafted to reserve time for academic success and accommodate student schedules. 

Ainsleigh and Hiea-Yoon have similar goals for the program, which is sure to put the club on a path to success. 

Hiea-Yoon is looking to first build support from the university and surrounding community: “We are hoping to build a solid foundation for future incoming student-athletes, and of course, to compete at the Collegiate Championship! I want to draw interest to our sport on campus and bring in as much support as possible from the university in our first season.” 

Ainsleigh echoed the desire to compete at the annual championship as an opportunity for UCLA artistic swimmers to rekindle old friendships, meet new people and make their mark in the collegiate artistic swimming world. Additionally, she has her eye on a lofty long-term goal: “Eventually we would love to advance the program to varsity status, however this a long-term goal and something that will take time and dedication. Right now, I see UCLA artistic swimming as a great option for already competitive synchronized swimmers to pursue education and sport in one location. I imagine UCLA artistic swimming will allow experienced synchronized swimmers and beginners to connect and learn new skills from one another.

As head coach, Hiea-Yoon will certainly be busy, serving as head coach of her club, the La Mirada Aquabells, assistant coach of the 13-15 national team and head coach of the UCLA club program. She is an incredible representative of the sport and an admirable trailblazer, growing the sport at many levels in the U.S. 

The athletes in our organization, and around the world, need to have more options available to them once they graduate from high school. Having the opportunity to add another university to the list of collegiate programs is very exciting, and it’s my hope that UCLA will become a varsity program in the very near future,” she said. 

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