As Andrea Mohns-Brillaud was about to graduate from BU, she jokingly told figure skating coach Barbara Pinch, “Let me know if you ever retire: I’m taking your job.”
Mohns-Brillaud (COM’87) made good on her promise some 21 years later. The former member of the BU Figure Skating Club has been coaching the team for the past 11 years, a period of tremendous growth and success. Today the BU team is one of the country’s elite figure skating teams.
The club won its first national award in 2006, a year before Mohns-Brillaud took charge. Since then, the skaters have achieved podium finishes at 10 of the last 11 intercollegiate national championships and won 4, including the past 2.
“The team was run differently when I arrived, but it wasn’t like I came with a magical potion,” she says. “There were kids in the club that were at a competitive level and there were kids who weren’t—but all of them competed.”
That changed after the first competition under Mohns-Brillaud. Her team finished fourth, one spot outside the medal positions. Her dejected locker room disagreed when she said that they could have won the competition. She gave them a choice: either every club member competes or start cutting down the team and having only the best skaters perform. All but one member voted in favor of cuts, laying the foundation for their continuing success. “They wanted the team to do well. It’s really hard to go to school full-time and dedicate time to skate,” the coach says. “They voted to turn their commitment into results.”
It took only until the next competition to bring home a gold medal.
The club now has two sections: competitive and recreational. Experience levels range from beginners to skaters who competed nationally or internationally before arriving at BU. There are currently 52 skaters, 30 who perform competitively. They must practice at least four times a week, although many put in considerably more time.
“The high-level kids are coming off skating six days a week for three to four hours each day, plus off-ice conditioning,” Mohns-Brillaud says. “Four days a week is like a piece of cake to them. They try to skate every day because they know that’s what it takes to perform well.”
Although the skaters aren’t eligible for athletic scholarships because it’s a club sport, most of them say they chose BU specifically because of the figure skating club. They undergo a bit of culture shock when they first arrive: for many it’s the first time working as a team in what is traditionally an individual sport.
“I’ll have kids come in that can do triple jumps, but will sometimes fall,” Mohn-Brillaud says. “I’ll suggest a program where they can nail everything with no chance of falling, because a fall will impact the team negatively. At first, they won’t care about the team. But once they’ve been to a competition they evolve.”
BU skaters sometimes find themselves competing against a teammate in the same event. Mohns-Brillaud says she tells them, “You’re not competing against each other, you’re competing with her to hold other teams back.”
To foster a team mentality, the club engages in a lot of bonding off the ice, organizing plenty of social events like bowling nights or ugly Christmas sweater parties. This year they’ve started a mentorship program, with upperclassmen helping freshmen teammates with their studies.
Mohns-Brillaud tries to stay away from the social side, but describes herself as the skaters’ “mother away from home.” Even as she’s sitting in the top row of Walter Brown Arena talking about the club, she keeps one eye on the five or six skaters practicing below. Every so often, she stops to give some words of encouragement or a thumbs up, reassuring the skaters that she is still watching. “They’re actually doing some really good stuff now that I’m up here,” she says.
The club performs in three regional competitions each year. The four clubs with the best scores then qualify for the national championships. It’s typically been BU, the University of Delaware, and Dartmouth filling three of those spots lately, but new rivals are now emerging. Sacred Heart University, New York University, and the University of Connecticut are all building strong programs.
But the coach and her team relish the competition. “They’re all now getting great skaters in,” Mohns-Brillaud says. “It’s really exciting. The kids are loving it.”
Harry Jones can be reached at email@example.com. Jason Kimball can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.