Carla DeGirolamo and LeeAnn Shoker Leave Lasting Impact on Miami and U.S. Synchronized Skating

Carla DeGirolamo and LeeAnn Shoker spent a combined four decades coaching the Miami University synchronized skating program in Oxford, Ohio, taking the program to heights unmatched by any other collegiate synchronized skating program.

By Darci Miller

Carla DeGirolamo and LeeAnn Shoker spent a combined four decades coaching the Miami University synchronized skating program in Oxford, Ohio, giving everything they had to the athletes they call their kids.

And in the process, they took the program to heights unmatched by any other collegiate synchronized skating program.

“This is never about us,” Shoker said. “It’s always about the team. It’s always about the kids. It’s always about providing them the best experience possible. It’s always about preparing them for whatever’s next, whether it’s competing, whether it’s traveling, whether it’s going to career fairs. Whatever it is, it’s pouring as much as we can into them so they can operate without us. Because when they go on the ice, they don’t get to have us with them.”

Now, the Miami RedHawks will truly have to operate without them. DeGirolamo and Shoker stepped down following the 2023-24 season.

“I knew when I took this job many moons ago that I would know – I would just know when it was time to move on,” said DeGirolamo, Miami’s head coach since 2009. “And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 20 years of coaching, it’s to listen to your instinct and to trust your gut. And it was telling me this was the right time to go. I think the program is in a great place. I think we’ve got a strong group of athletes. I think we’ve got strong support from the university. And so, we definitely wanted to make sure we were making this transition with the team in a solid position and leaving them on a high note.”

An Unparallelled Legacy

Carla DeGirolamo tells the 2019 Miami collegiate team that they won the U.S. title. They stand in a hallway outside a locker room, smiling, hugging and jumping up and down.
Carla DeGirolamo tells the 2019 collegiate team they won the U.S. title.
Photo courtesy of Ellie Moffett

DeGirolamo skated for Miami from 1999-2002 before spending seven seasons as an assistant coach under head coach Vicki Korn, serving as the head coach of the junior team from 2006-09. She was the top assistant coach for the senior team from 2004-09 after serving as head coach of the collegiate team her first full-time season on staff in 2003-04. DeGirolamo assumed the reins of the senior and collegiate programs in June 2009 following Korn’s retirement.

Over the course of DeGirolamo’s entire time with the Miami coaching staff, the RedHawks won a combined 18 U.S. championships (two senior, 16 collegiate) and qualified for the World Championships 11 times, achieving a silver medal in 2007, the first medal for Team USA at the World Championships and now tied as the highest finish at the event by a U.S. team. She also helped the collegiate team to a record-breaking string of 12-consecutive national titles from 2005-16. As head coach, she led the RedHawks to 11 collegiate U.S. championships (2010-16, 2019, 2022-24), while the senior team has qualified for the World Championships six times (2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2022, 2023).

Shoker finished her 16th season as an assistant coach, during which she has helped coach seven RedHawk senior teams qualify for the World Championships, including the 2009 U.S. Championship team, and was on staff for the 2007 World silver medal. She also has helped the collegiate team win 14 U.S. titles.

“I think every milestone, every accomplishment, big and small, has its place ingrained in my heart, and I don’t know that I can weigh anything more than something else, because I think it’s all created my Miami experience,” DeGirolamo said. “Ultimately, the goal is always to be successful and to win championships and medals and all of those things, and we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had a lot of those really great accomplishments and milestones and championships and medals. Our collegiate has won 22 (U.S. Championships), but each one is just as exciting as the ones that came before because it’s unique and it’s a different group of athletes and a different set of circumstances and a different program, a different venue and journey to get there.

“The world silver medal, obviously, was a huge, huge accomplishment and something that I will remember for the rest of my life, not unlike everything else. But it’s not very often that you get to be the first at something, and I think that was something that Miami will always have, is that they were that first World medal, which I think is a really special moment.”

“I look back in awe and wonder, how the hell have we done all of the things that we have done?” Shoker added.

While their impact has obviously been felt at Miami, the reverberations are being felt throughout the entire U.S. synchronized skating community.

Ashley Mulhern (second from left in a striped dress) receives the senior of the year award from Katie Bowling, left, DeGirolamo and Shoker.
Ashley Mulhern (second from left) receives the senior of the year award from Katie Bowling (left), DeGirolamo (second from right) and Shoker (right).
Photo courtesy Ashley Mulhern

“They have given so much to collegiate skating, which has just grown over the years,” said Ashley Mulhern, who skated for Miami’s senior team from 2011-15. “I can remember a time where Miami was really the only place that you could go to go to school and skate for your university. But I think that they really, along with Vicki Korn, spearheaded growing collegiate skating in particular, synchronized skating at the collegiate level, within the U.S. to the point where it is now, where there’s so many different options for where athletes can continue their love and passion for synchronized skating at the collegiate level.”

Ashley Korn has felt the full impact of that growth. The daughter of former Miami head coach Vicki Korn, she skated on Miami’s collegiate and senior teams from 2007-10. She’s now the head coach of the University of Michigan’s synchronized skating team, which ended Miami’s streak of consecutive national championships in 2017.

“Those were the conversations that Carla, LeeAnn and I had, was, ‘We’re allowed to now create competition in the collegiate division,’” Korn said. “It was great that we were so dominant, and that’s what my mom wanted and expected, but at the same time, by Miami not winning, by opening that door, it created real, true collegiate competition, but also camaraderie. It allowed for the collegiate division to actually flourish and people to feel like they’re competing for something, where for awhile, to no fault of our own, Miami was going to win, and who was going to be next?

“Obviously, they’re not happy to lose, but they were the first people to congratulate me, to say, ‘Hey, this is awesome, because we’ve been able to create parity. We’ve been able to create competition for everybody.’ They were actually happy and proud of that for the collegiate division as opposed to, ‘Man, that sucks for Miami.’ So I think, as much as it’s not an accomplishment, it’s something that they’ve been able to embrace and are the reason that the collegiate division is still growing and more and more teams are starting.”

Relationships Over Everything
Ellie Moffett, who skated on the collegiate team from 2018-22, recalls a moment with Shoker at the U.S. Championships during her freshman year.

“It was right after we’d just been in the kiss and cry, and we took our team photo, and I got to finally hug her,” Moffett said. “And I said, ‘We did it.’ And she said, ‘No, you did it. I just had the joy of watching.’ It was the epitome of that journey and all the hard work that they have done, but also the support they have given us.”

While DeGirolamo and Shoker have created an unmatched record of accomplishments and successes in collegiate skating, what is ultimately the hallmark of the Miami program are the relationships.

“The relationships and the community have been the best part,” DeGirolamo said. “College is a transitional part of life. It’s a very formative part of life where you’re trying to figure out who you are and what you want to be. I think having the privilege of being a small part in so many athletes’ life journeys and, through sport, being able to get to know so many people and see them grow and see them thrive and see them develop through their four years here and then beyond, and going to competitions now and seeing people who were here 10 years ago, 15 years ago, five years ago, two years ago, and just kind of catching up and still having that connection, and to see other people making their connections and seeing those lasting relationships, has been really great. Between the staff and the athletes, I think it’s a really wonderful community of people, and being able to help develop these women, in some small part, has been very rewarding and very fulfilling for me.”

Part of their coaching philosophy, in fact, had nothing to do with what went on on the ice.

 LeeAnn Shoker, far left, and Carla DeGirolamo. far right, with their 2014–15 Miami team
LeeAnn Shoker (far left) and Carla DeGirolamo (far right) with their 2014–15 Miami team.
Photo courtesy Ashley Mulhern

“One thing that was always focused on was holding a champion standard on and off the ice, and graduating champions,” Mulhern said. “So for them, that meant more than getting a medal or a trophy, and it really was building the relationships with the athletes and helping develop us into incredibly successful people beyond the rink.”

DeGirolamo and Shoker also hosted skater parents’ weekends in which the skaters’ families were invited to Oxford to see the teams perform, have a big banquet and get to know each other.

“Carla and LeeAnn really spearheaded that kind of family and community aspect of the program,” Mulhern said. “I think that was incredibly special, and I know, to this day, it’s created lifelong memories and friendships, not only for me at Miami, but for my parents and for the rest of my family who became incredibly close with my teammates’ families, and are people who now are being invited to my wedding this coming fall.”

The Next Chapter
Those relationships have been out in full force since DeGirolamo and Shoker announced their retirement a few months ago.

“I think that one of the great things about Miami is it’s always been a community,” DeGirolamo said. “It’s always been a collective effort. And yes, for the last umpteen years, LeeAnn and I have kind of led the charge on that. But at the end of the day, the heart and the soul of the program are the people, in quantity – past, present and eventually the future – and not necessarily just tied to us two. That community has really reached out with a lot of love and support.”

Both DeGirolamo and Shoker are planning to take some time off after stepping down from Miami. DeGirolamo will move to be near her family in the Cleveland area, while Shoker will remain near her family in Oxford and plans to travel in her time off.

What won’t end is DeGirolamo and Shoker’s presence in Miami synchronized skating. Korn is spearheading a campaign to have the Team Spirit Award renamed to the LeeAnn Shoker Team Spirit Award and the Outstanding Senior Award renamed to the Carla DeGirolamo Outstanding Senior Award.

“It’s really hard to say thank you for all of this, so we were trying to find a way to ensure they’re always part of the legacy,” Korn said. “I was just trying to find ways to make sure they had some sort of stamp, and I felt like this would be the most longstanding stamp we could get because it’ll continuously impact the rest of our skating community.”

While skaters past and present are sad the program is losing its coaches, they’re equally as happy and excited for them to be doing what’s right for them.

“Especially my senior year, we had a lot of these conversations of, ‘Skating ends at some point, but life carries on, and it’s not the end-all, be-all,’” Moffett said. “And I think it’s such a prime example. I am so proud of them for coming to this decision at the time in their lives that I think is perfect. You never want to see them go – it’s very sad to see them go. But I’m proud of them for setting out what they wanted to do and coming to terms with it, and taking their own advice and realizing that skating does end someday.”

That someday is finally upon us.

“We didn’t want to stay too long at the party, you know?” Shoker said with a laugh. “We see in the world of sport, and even professionally in different arenas, sometimes people just stay too long at the party. And we always talk about, like, I don’t want my inability to see that I need to change to impact the athletes’ experience.

“And I think one of the coolest things, for me, was when we announced and, as weeks have gone on, the number of alumni and even our current athletes who have specifically reached out to us to say they’re proud of us for doing the thing that we said we should all be open to doing – that’s like, ‘Oh, we’ve all heard each other and seen each other. This is awesome. You now have permission to reinvent as much as you want because if we can reinvent, all of us can reinvent.’ It’s kind of the final walk of the walk.”

Both are ready for the next chapter, but they won’t really be leaving Miami.

“I’m excited,” DeGirolamo said. “I’ve been a part of Miami skating for 25 years, being an athlete and being a coach, and I’ve never been able to be a part of the fan club. I’ve never been in the stands, with the crowd, doing the cheering as the team gets on the ice. I’m really excited to support the team and the program and the athletes in a new way, and I’m looking forward to losing my voice from cheering so loud in the crowd and seeing all the great things that they continue on and accomplish as they move forward.”

“I agree,” Shoker said. “Just go Miami. That’s the thing. Go Miami.”