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Sporty field at Pacific Coast Sectionals

With Doug Razzano's silver in Sheffield, the U.S. won at least one medal at each JGP stop.
With Doug Razzano's silver in Sheffield, the U.S. won at least one medal at each JGP stop. (Paul Tortland)

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By J.R. Walker, special to icenetwork.com
(11/14/2007) - San Diego is known for its mild weather, world-class zoo, and most recently, devastating wild fires.

This week, however, San Diego becomes center stage for figure skaters who represent clubs in the west, as the San Diego Figure Skating Club plays host to the Pacific Coast Sectional Championships.

Over 120 athletes will compete for the chance to enter the draw at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships this January. The top four finishers from each division; novice junior, and senior -- will be invited to compete at the event to be held in Saint Paul, Minn.

Senior Ladies

With only three ladies in the competition who have senior national experience, the senior ladies should provide some of the most emotional skating of the week. Leading the way is defending champ, Danielle Kahle (All Year FSC), who is coming off a rocky finish at her only international competition this season. Kahle finished sixth at the 2007 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and is poised to advance.

Erin Reed (Wasatch FSC) placed 16th at the 2007 U.S. Championships, but will see tough competition from a bumper crop of young ladies who hope to earn a spot in Saint Paul. Other contenders are regional champions Laney Diggs (All Year FSC) and Tashe Smith (SC of San Francisco), as well as Karen Zhou (All Year FSC) who finished second behind Diggs at Southwest Pacific Regionals.

The sentimental favorite has to be Yebin Mok (All Year FSC), who is making a comeback after several years of injuries. In 2004, Mok was a skater on the rise, earning a fifth place finish at the 2004 U.S. Championships.

"Just being at (Sectionals) is great personal triumph for me, and for me to go to nationals would be icing on the cake," reflected Mok. "After having been completely off the ice living a 'normal' life, I learned and realized the gift and love I have for skating."

Mok finished fourth in her region to qualify for this competition, and won the free skate at that event. Should she skate a clean competition, Mok's skating skills and mature presentation should earn her a trip to Saint Paul.

Senior Men

Though small in numbers at just six, the men's competition should provide for an interesting preview of the penultimate fight in Saint Paul. Michael Villarreal (All Year FSC) comes to San Diego with a full arsenal of triple jumps and bragging rights as the reigning champion of this event.

"I'm probably skating the best I have in my entire career," said an optimistic Villarreal. "I've made changes to my toe jump technique, and I have started to become very consistent."

Villarreal will have to contend with Nicholas LaRoche, winner of a silver medal at the 2007 Ondrej Nepela Memorial. LaRoche defeated Villarreal at a club competition earlier this month, but LaRoche will need to harness his power and control his jumps to continue that success. Still, both LaRoche and Villarreal, should easily advance to the national competition.

The rest of the field is a crap shoot with a former junior national champion (Dennis Phan), the first alternate for the Junior Grand Prix Final (Douglas Razzano), a seasoned Grand Prix competitor (Geoffry Varner), and a solid jumper with little else in his program (Jordan Wilson).

Senior Pairs

Because there are only four pairs teams registered for this competition, skating here is simply a formality. MeeRan Trombley and Laureano Ibarra are the frontrunners for gold. The pair demonstrated a new technical prowess as last-minute replacements at the 2007 Skate America competition.

Little is known about the other competitors; Katie Beriau and Alexander Merritt competed at the 2007 U.S. National Championships finishing 13th, while the other two duos are making their qualifying competition debut.

Junior Competition

On the junior level, the ladies competition should prove to be highly competitive. Eight young ladies all scored well enough at their regional competitions to qualify here as senior skaters. Look for Ellie Kawamura (All Year FSC) to run away with this competition with Amanda Dobbs (Peninsula SC), Anna Malkova (All Year FSC), and Victoria Rackohn (All Year FSC) close behind.

The junior men's event will showcase a wide berth of up-and-coming skaters with something to prove. The favorite has to be Richard Dornbush (All Year FSC), who has been having a great season. Max Aaron (Coyotes SC of Arizona) smoked the competition at his regional competition and should also have a good skate at sectionals.

Like their senior counterparts, the pairs field is an unproven one. Lisa Moore and Justin Gaumond (6th place) and Chelsi Guillen and Danny Curzon (7th place) competed in Spokane as juniors last season, and are expected to be the class of the field. Three other teams will fight for the two remaining places at U.S. Championships.

The junior ice dancers are also an unseasoned bunch, but this could be a "coming out" of sorts for Rachael Richardson and Brad Coulter, who dazzled during the ice dancing event at Lake Placid.

Novice Competition

It would be an upset if Victoria Hecht (Los Angeles FSC) and David Wang (All Year FSC) did not win the ladies and men's competitions, respectively. Both are tough competitors who have been rewarded for good basics so far this season.

The pairs and dance qualifiers are all so close in ability that it would be reckless to predict who might come out on top, so it will be interesting to see which teams seize the moment.