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Triple-triple propels pristine Pierce to lead

Oltmanns, Santillan overcome fall, win short; Fox, Katsman start strong
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Landing the only clean triple-triple in the competition, reigning U.S. novice champion Tyler Pierce won the junior ladies short program with a score of 57.16. -Jay Adeff

The novice pattern dance, junior ladies short program and junior pairs short program were held Saturday morning at the 2013 U.S. Challenge Skate.

In the dance, Madison Fox and Val Katsman took a big lead after performing two patterns of the Argentine tango. Fox and Katsman earned 35.70 points and have a 10-point cushion over Caroline Leadmon and Jacob Schedl.

"We are really confident going into tomorrow; we are a strong team," Fox said.

Coach Patti Gottwein is hopeful for a strong season based on where her team already is at this early in the year.

"They have made big leaps in the last two months," she said. "Madison is also a full-time free skater, so we tend to peak later in the season because we don't get the time. But we are starting to get our groove on, and they are looking good."

Alexis Middleton and Michael Valdez are in third place.

Longtime Junior Grand Prix competitors Olivia Oltmanns and Joshua Santillan have a four-point lead over Brianna de la Mora and Taylor Wilson in junior pairs. Newly formed team Elise Middleton and Anthony Evans are in third.

Oltmanns and Santillan totaled 44.57 points for their 42nd Street short program. The duo rebounded from an Oltmanns fall on the program-opening double Axels to put together a strong performance. Highlights included a lift and pairs spin that both earned Level 4.

"We were hoping to nail the Axel," Oltmanns said. "I have landed it in previous competitions, and I was hoping to get it down this time."

"I know [missing the Axel] was a bit of a fluke because we have done two other shorts and gotten the Axel in both," Santillan said. "The throw triple toe in warm-ups and practice has been great, so the hand down here was no big deal. We have room to grow, and we're not too worried about the mistakes we made."

The team looks at this event as an opportunity to get out early in the season, since it is no longer JGP eligible due to age.

"This is a good place to get experience, competing early in the season," Oltmanns said. "It's cool to have that international feel even though we won't go to an international this fall."

De la Mora and Wilson scored 40.07 points for their rhumba-inspired performance. The team also suffered one fall, with theirs coming on the throw triple toe, an element Wilson noted is a work in progress.

"The skate went pretty well," he said. "We have been working on the second mark since Skate Detroit, and I think it was better here. I know we had a fall on the throw triple toe, but that's something we have been working on."

They are now looking forward to a Lord of the Rings free skate, encouraging fans to take note of the second half of the program.

"There are a lot of difficult elements in the free skate," Wilson explained. "There is a new lift we are working on that is pretty cool in the second half. It's right before a throw triple Salchow, and then there's another lift right after that. It's an exciting part of our program."

Middleton and Evans formed their partnership six months ago and competed for the second time together Saturday.

"For a new team, the easier transition is some of the tricks," Evans said. "The hardest thing is coming together with components and skating skills, doing the same steps at the same time, landing jumps at the same time, all of that."

The athletes are looking to coach Peter Oppegard for guidance through this process.

"The first thing you look for in a new team is to mesh the timings. As a coach, you then blend the styles so they complement each other," Oppegard said. "In the first competition, Anthony was a little off and now he looks like he's gaining his feet underneath him, and Elise had a couple of slips today. Now we want to get them on the same page at the same time. I think potential is high."

Reigning U.S. novice champion Tyler Pierce executed a pristine Voices from the Forest short program to earn 57.16 points and assume the junior ladies lead. Each of the program's seven elements saw positives grades of execution, including a triple toe-triple toe combination, triple loop and two Level 4 spins.

"I opened the program with my new jump combo and am happy I stayed focused as I got more excited as the program kept getting better," Pierce said. "I'm trying to get my triple-triple combinations strong and consistent this year in both programs."

Despite feeling shaky at times during her "Summertime" program, Amber Glenn sits in second place with 52.33 points.

"I'm learning to be the skater and not the judge when I skate," she said. "Like, if I do a jump, I need to land it like I did the best jump ever and move on instead of concentrating on the negative parts of that element."

In third place with 50.33 points is Olivia Serafini, who was 10th at the junior level in the U.S. last year.

"I'm very happy with how I skated. I have been working on my program components, and I think I really focused on those today and let my jumps be," she said. "But for the season, I want to have a consistent triple-triple, so I was a little disappointed that I doubled the second half of that combination. I think it will come later in the year."

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