New Canaan’s Shen, Mase Named to 2023 U.S. Artistic Swimming Youth National Team


Sophia Shen. Photo courtesy of the New Canaan YMCA

At first, New Canaan resident Sophia Shen didn’t think she’d like artistic swimming.

Now a 15-year-old rising sophomore at Rye Country Day School, Shen followed her older sister into the sport formerly known as synchronized swimming at age eight.

“I started it and I just kept going,” Shen recalled. 

“It was for fun at first and my sister was already in it and she was going to all these meets, so I would go with her and see her and her friends compete,” she added. “I was like, ‘I want to be like those older girls who look really strong in the water.’ ”

Mission accomplished.

Sophia Shen and Laura Mase. Photo courtesy of the New Canaan YMCA

This summer, Shen was named to the 2023 U.S. Artistic Swimming Youth National Team and will compete in the World Youth Championship starting Friday in Greece.

“I think it’s really special because I was working this whole year to improve and be able to get on this team,” Shen told “So knowing all the work I put in, all the practice I went to kind of paid off. And to be able to also train with such high level and really strong athletes from all over the country and from different clubs that I normally compete with during the season. But now I get to train with them and practice with them and kind of see how they practice and how they work.”

A uniquely physically demanding and graceful sport, Shen says artistic swimming offers camaraderie with teammates as well as athletic challenge, training and competition. 

In New Canaan, Shen resides minutes away from where she learned the sport and trained to such a high level, the New Canaan YMCA. There, as a member of the Aquianas artistic swimming program, she works under the eye of Youth Team Coach Laura Mase, also a New Canaan resident and a member of the Youth National Team as an assistant coach who excelled in the sport through the Y.

Asked to describe Sophia as an athlete, Mase said she’s “one of the toughest athletes that I’ve ever worked with.”

“She’s really competitive and works hard all the time,” Mase said on a recent afternoon from Las Vegas, where she and Shen have been training prior to flying to Greece on Wednesday. “I can kind of throw anything at her. She’s really smart, and we’ve had a lot of changes in our rules this year for artistic swimming. So she’s had to adapt to a lot of changes. But she’s always up to the challenge. She’s at the pool every day of the week, pretty much. She has a really competitive high school that she goes to also, and she typically has to take a train to practice. She’s at practice until like nine o’clock at night most nights and even if I want her to work harder on something at the end of practice, like if I ask her to stay after a few minutes, she always does it.”

Mase added, “Her dedication and her work ethic is pretty much unparalleled with other athletes that I’ve worked with.”

New Canaan and the Y are well-represented on the Youth National Team, which is composed of just 12 athletes and two coaches. 

Mase noted that Shen and her sister both were on track to make the national team—Sophia herself had been 12 years old and ranked first in the nation in her age group—but the championships were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mase herself was also named as a coach to the 2020 team.

It was “definitely difficult” to not be able to compete, Mase said.

It’s “an honor” to make the Youth National Team, said Mase, an Aquianas coach for about one decade. 

“I see them go off each summer and train, and to be able to train Sophia like all year and then have her make the team and then get to actually be a part of the team training over the summer, and to have an athlete from our home club, it’s an honor,” Mase said. “You get to see all of that hard work that she’s put in, and that all the athletes have put in all year, really pay off. It’s definitely the top honor I’ve had as a coach, because it’s the best kids in the country. So it’s been really fun to work with all different athletes from all over the U.S.”

The YMCA itself has been a key to their respective successes, Mase said.

“The Y has been really supportive,” she said. “I learned to swim at the Y and they just have a lot of great programs. So to be able to have such a competitive program at our YMCA, where we can start athletes out like Sophia was when she was little, after seeing her older sister do it, it’s special. We have beginner classes and then they can kind of work up to the level that Sophia is at right now. We’ve got a national team athlete on our club and we have 7-, 8-year-old swimmers who are just trying it out. So I think it’s a really unique opportunity, and the Y has been really helpful, I think for both of us.”

Asked where she sees her future in artistic swimming, Shen said she’s hoping to continue, possibly into college.

“Kind of just keep going on the track that I’m on and maybe I’ll be able to continue artistic swimming,” she said.

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