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Easterns kick off with a bang

Novice ice dancers Rhys Ainsworth and Chloe Wolf lead after the compulsory dances.
Novice ice dancers Rhys Ainsworth and Chloe Wolf lead after the compulsory dances. (Paul Harvath)

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By Liz Leamy and Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(11/15/2007) - The 2008 Eastern Sectional Championships commenced Wednesday afternoon at the Ice Factory in Wake Forest, N.C., with more than 110 total entries from across the Eastern seaboard competing for coveted invitations to the 2008 U.S. Championships in Saint Paul, Minn. in January.

Wednesday's competition had the two-rink facility's lobby bustling with several hundred parents, coaches, vendors and officials.

"The facility is first rate, and the general tone of the competition is upbeat and very positive," said Slavka Button, coach of Schuyler Eldridge (SC of Boston) and U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame coach to the renowned Janet Lynn.

"The people are friendly; it's real southern hospitality."

The biggest story to come out of the first day was the depth and overall high standard of the novice field.

In the novice men's short program, jumps were big, clean and fast; programs were fresh and entertaining; and the edgework was strong.

In pairs, throw jumps were big, and lifts difficult. In the ice dance field, the compulsories were solid.

"The skating has been really good - I particularly think that the choreography has been very interesting because of all the transitions involved," said Karl Kurtz, who coaches in Wilmington, Del., and has several teams and skaters here.

"The coaches, athletes and officials have all worked together to raise the standard, and everyone is becoming more knowledgeable about the International Judging System (IJS)," said Robbie Kaine, a dance coach at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society with several teams competing.

Veterans Prevail in Novice Men's Short

Novice men highlighted the first day of competition with a short program event marked by depth, diversity and, most of all, athleticism.

Most of the 13 competitors landed their triples and triple-double combinations, had great edges and power, and did innovative programs that went well beyond the expected standard.

Many of the skaters were seasoned novice competitors, which made for an exciting event.

"They had good programs with excellent jumps, spins and other content," said Mitch Moyer, U.S. Figure Skating Senior Director of Athlete High Performance.

All of the top four finishers at today's event are second-year novice competitors. Moreover, all of them are friends and acquaintances from past regional, junior national, sectional and national events.

"We're having a good time," said Alexander Aiken (Atlanta FSC), who placed third.

Ross Miner (SC of Boston) won the event with his high-octane performance to "Hawaii Five-O," for which he earned 42.56 points. He wore a neoprene-like wet suit that looked like the real thing, and wowed spectators with his terrific speed and energy.

Miner did a high triple Lutz-double toe combination; a triple flip from footwork with a slight touchdown on the landing; a double Axel; and a back sit spin into front sit in a low, "cannonball" position.

"I was relatively happy with my performance," Miner said.

He was awarded a 19.98 for his Program Components, the highest PCS of the event.

Alexander Zahradnicek (Georgia FSC) earned second place with 39.62 for his arresting rendition of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto.

His program featured a big triple Lutz-double toe; a triple flip with a two-handed touchdown on the landing; and a solid double Axel. Despite a fall on his footwork, Zahradnicek put together a comprehensive routine with speed, fast spins and excellent edges.

"I thought it was good, but I want to do even better in the free skate," said Zahradnicek.

Alexander Aiken (Atlanta FSC) clinched third with his dynamic take on music from James Bond movies. He performed a soaring triple Lutz with a three-turn into a double toe; a triple flip; and double Axel.

"I really enjoy jumping," said Aiken, adding that he is "just trying to stay focused."

Peter Max Dion (Jamestown SC) wound up fourth with his routine to a techno version of "Beethoven's Fifth Symphony." He performed with powerful edges and big, solid jumps; including a triple Lutz-double toe, triple flip from footwork, and double Axel.

Favorites Grab Novice Pair Lead

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir (Smithfield FSC, ColoniaI FSC) handily won the novice pairs' short program with a clean performance to a fast-paced selection from the "Kill Bill" soundtrack.

The couple teamed with coaches Bobby Martin, Sheryl Franks and Carrie Wall 18 months ago. The new coaching team's positive influence was obvious as they opened with a strong throw double Salchow, followed by a challenging Axel lasso lift with a flip-out exit. Their side-by-side double loops and double twist were solid.

The couple's only bobble came on the side-by-side combination spins, when Shnapir moved a bit too close to his partner.

Castelli and Shnapir earned 34.22 points, a significant 5.64 points ahead of the field.

"It wasn't our best but we're happy with it," the 20-year-old Shnapir said. "We made a couple of little mistakes. Originally, we planned to do a throw double Axel, but changed to a Salchow at the last minute."

"Just the spins freaked me out a little," added the 17-year-old Castelli, a senior at Cranston High School West.

Shnapir -- who was born in Moscow but has lived most of his life in the U.S. - said competing at the JGP Estonia earlier this fall helped them gain confidence and experience. The couple placed 10th in a 15-team field.

"Neither of us ever did an international event before," Shnapir, who is taking a leave of absence from Emerson College, said.

"There were some great pairs from China and Russia there; some of them were at the JGP Final last season. Representing Team USA, and meeting people from all over the world, is like nothing else."

Lauren Farr (Sun Valley FSC) and John Kern (SC of Wilmington) took second place with an upbeat program to Big Voodoo Daddy's "Mr. Pinstripe Suit."

They opened with a fine double twist and tap overhead lift, but Farr stepped out of a double loop.

"It was our first (competitive) performance," Kern said. "We had 'new team syndrome' on a few things, like our (step sequence) unison, but that's okay."

The couple, who is coached by Karl Kurtz in Wilmington, Del., has skated together for just three months.

Molly Moscowitz (Colonial SC of Pennsylvania) and Tyler Harris (Princeton SC) were third with 22.70 points.

Top Couples Outpace Field in Novice Dance

Unlike junior and senior ice dancers -- who are required to do a folk/country original dance this season -- teams in the novice division perform two compulsory dances and a free dance, with each section counting 50 percent.

Today, 11 teams performed two contrasting compulsories: the elegant, flowing American Waltz; and the Killian, a folksy dance done in a close, side-by-side hold.

Not surprisingly, the two top contenders for the title split the wins.

Chloe Wolf (University of Delaware FSC) and Rhys Ainsworth (North Atlantic FSC) won the American Waltz with a performance distinguished by fine carriage and good leg unison, earning 25.72 points.

They took second place in the Killian with 23.66 points, and their combined total of 49.38 points put them first overall.

"Both dances felt really good," the 18-year-old Ainsworth said. "We focused on staying relaxed and on time, and I think we did that pretty well."

"We just tried to keep things under control," added his partner, who will turn 18 next Monday.

The couple, who have skated together seven years, have an unusual training situation.

"This year, we spent the entire summer at University of Delaware for the first time," Ainsworth said. "When school started, we moved back home to Maine, and now we split our (training) time."

Both skaters are high school seniors, Wolf at Falmouth High and Ainsworth at Cape Elizabeth High. In Maine, they are coached by Ann Hanson; in Delaware, they work with a group including Karen Ludington, Christie Moxley and Alexander Kirsanov.

"It's kind of hectic, but you get used to it," Wolf said.

Katie Wyble (Center Ice & Blades of Western Pennsylvania) and Justin Morrow (SC of New York) performed an exceptionally fast Killian marked by strong edges, taking first in that dance with 24.85 points.

The couple, who are coached by Bob Mock in Pittsburgh, placed second to Wolf and Ainsworth in the American Waltz with 24.13 points. Their 48.98 point total puts them second overall.

While the top two couples have opened a substantial lead, less than a point separates the next four teams.

Claire Schretlen (University of Delaware FSC) and Chase Brogan (SC of Hartford) sit third with a combined total of 41.91 points. Una Donegan and Andrew Korda (SC of Boston) are fourth with 41.85 points.