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Juniors cap off exciting Day 1 in San Diego

Novice competitors lead off at Pacifc Coast Sectional

Richard Dornbush, here with coach Tammy Gambill at the JGP Austria, leads a tight pack of junior men after the short program on Thursday.
Richard Dornbush, here with coach Tammy Gambill at the JGP Austria, leads a tight pack of junior men after the short program on Thursday. (Kim Heim)

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By J.R. Walker, special to icenetwork.com
(11/16/2007) - Competition began on Thursday at the 2008 Pacific Coast Sectional Championships hosted by the San Diego Figure Skating Club. All of the novice competitors took to the ice in the afternoon to set the stage for the junior men, ladies, and ice dancers who highlighted the evening session. Skaters are competing for the right to compete at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January. The top four finishers after the free skate in each division will advance to compete at the championships in Saint Paul, Minn.

Novice Compulsory Dances

The day's events began with the novice compulsory dances -- the American Waltz and the Killian. At the end of the competition, Lauren Ely (Palomares FSC) and Travis Mager (Colombia FSC) came out on top with a combined score of 46.95.

"Today felt very good," gushed an excited Ely. "There's so much hype around this event, and it was nice to finally get one under our belt."

Ely and Mager won both phases of the competition and are excited to present their Bobby Darrin medley free dance on Friday morning. "It's a lot of fun dancing and really matches our personalities," said Mager.

Finishing in second with a score of 45.94 was the team of Elizabeth Lewis (Philadelphia SC & HS) and Baxter Burbank (Fairbanks FSC), while Elyse Matsumoto (Peninsula SC) and Patrick Mays (Ann Arbor FSC) finished third.

Novice Ladies Short Program

A relative newcomer to the figure skating scene, 14-year-old Song King (All Year FSC) mesmerized the audience with her short program to a Sarah Brightman medley that showcased her flexibility and technical prowess.

King skated a clean program that included a double Lutz-double toe combination that helped her to earn a total of 34.75 points.

"It felt very good out there," said King. "I tried to make everything graceful and clean."

Finishing just behind King was Victoria Hecht (Los Angeles FSC) with a total of 33.91 points. In addition to a clean double Lutz-double loop combination, Hecht attempted, but was not given full credit for, a triple Salchow.

Samiera Abou-Nasr (Yellowstone Valley FSC, Inc.) finished in third place with 32.54 points with a sophisticated program to music by Santana, while Stephanie Rigley (All Year FSC) finished in fourth.

Novice Men's Short Program

Skating next to last in the competition, William Knop (All Year FSC) won the novice men's short program in convincing fashion, earning almost four more points that his closest competitor.

Knop opened his program with a powerful triple toe loop-double toe loop combination and added a solo triple Salchow to get the crowd behind him.

"I am focusing on my own skating, and it was really fun to put out a clean program," admitted Knop. "Last year, I missed out on nationals by one point, and I am working to make sure that doesn't happen again."

Michael Helgren (Santa Rosa FSC) skated an entertaining program to techno music that allowed him to transform the ice into a nightclub dance floor. Like Knop, Helgren also landed a triple toe loop-double toe loop combination and a triple Salchow.

"I knew that I would skate clean even before I got here," explained Helgren. "I have been skating this program clean since regionals, so that gave me the confidence to relax and really perform the program."

Finishing in third place was Sam Koch (Peninsula SC) with a total of 34.82 points while Alema Beasley (Salt Lake FSC) placed fourth. Pre-competition favorite David Wang (All Year FSC) had two jump errors in his program and had to settle for fifth place.

Novice Pairs Short Program

Coached by former world champion Lloyd Eisler, Kloe Bautista (All Year FSC) and Galvani Hopson (Los Angeles FSC) won the novice pairs short program with a quirky program to music from the Austin Powers movies.

Wearing costumes that could be described as zebras with a lava lamp obsession, Bautista and Hopson earned a level three on their split twist that helped them earn a program total of 35.65 points.

"This was just another run through for us," said Hopson. "We are happy that things went so well for us."

Bautista and Hopson aim to improve the levels of their elements as they skate their free skate, and they have a surprise in store for the audience.

"We are going to try a throw triple loop," giggled Bautista. "It has become very consistent for us, and we are excited to try it."

Just behind them in second place is the team representing the All Year FSC, Christina Gutierres and Steven Hsu, who earned 31.98 points with an intellectual program to music from Memoirs of a Geisha.

Tori Vollmer (Inland Empire FSC) and David Sparks (Los Angeles FSC) stand in third place, while Taylor Hermerding and James Mamoody (both of the Peninsula SC) are in fourth.

Junior Compulsory Dance

In their first season together, Michelle Pennington (All Year FSC) and Andrew Skillington (Broadmoor SC, Inc.) won the compulsory dance edging out their training mates, Rachel Tibbetts (Broadmoor SC, Inc.) and Colin Brubaker (All Year FSC). With well-timed and synchronized moves, Pennington and Skillington presented the Cha-Cha Congelado with surety and flair that sold the dance to the audience.

"I love the cha-cha," said the 18-year-old Pennington. "It's energetic and passionate at the same time, and I like to present that feeling to the audience."

Skillington, 21, is looking forward to presenting a Finnish folk rhythm in the original dance on Friday.

"Neither one of us has a particularly interesting heritage," laughed Skillington. "So we decided to do something that we knew that we would enjoy, and we really liked this rhythm."

After making a small error on a hand hold, Rachael Richardson (Detroit SC, Inc.) and Brad Coulter (Spokane FSC) are in third place. "We always have motivation to skate our best," explained Richardson. "Tonight we just made a slight bobble, but we will continue to work to improve this dance and for the original dance."

Junior Men's Short Program

The most hotly contested event of the day was the junior men's short program, with three men finishing within four points of each other. Six men have a realistic shot at placing in the top four overall after the free skate on Friday.

Leading the pack is 16-year-old Richard Dornbush (All Year FSC), who barely edged out rink mate Andrew Gonzales and Max Aaron (Coyotes SC of Arizona) for the win.

Dornbush, who finished in eighth place in the junior division at the 2007 State Farm U.S. Championships, opened his program by falling on the back half of a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination.

"I didn't feel completely confident going into the combination," admitted Dornbush. "I just didn't go for it enough, but I regrouped and was able to finish strong."

After the fall, Dornbush executed a nice triple loop and an easy double Axel to go with his fast spins and demanding step sequences to earn a total of 61.72 points.

Gonzales skated last in the competition, and drew loud cheers from the audience for his passionate paso doble program. Dressed in bullfighter garb, Gonzales landed a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination to open his program, and then later added a nice triple loop and double Axel. Gonzales finished with 58.36 points, good enough for second place.

Finishing in third place, Aaron skated a fun program to marching band music that included a triple Lutz-double toe combination and a triple loop. It appeared as if Aaron was going to skate cleanly after his double Axel, but at the last minute, he stepped out of the jump and that made the difference between him and Gonzales. Aaron earned 57.81 points for his short program.

In fourth place with a program that included a triple Lutz-triple toe was Stanislav Samohin (Los Angeles FSC). Samohin made tiny errors on his triple loop and eked out a double Axel to edge tiny Keegan Messing with 53.56 points.

Messing stepped out of his triple loop, but did manage a triple Lutz-double toe loop combination and a nice double Axel to finish fifth. Grisha Fournier (All Year FSC) finished sixth, but is well within striking distance of the podium.

Junior Ladies Short Program

At the Southwest Pacific Regional in October, things looked grim for 14-year-old Carolyn-Ann Alba (All Year FSC). After falling on a jump and earning zero points for a spin, Alba finished in a distant sixth place in the short program. However, the reigning U.S. novice bronze medalist skated well enough in the free skate to rise in the standings and make it to sectionals.

Alba made up for those mistakes in the short program here, finishing first in a very competitive field with an impressive 48.95 points. Skating second, Alba opened with a nice triple Salchow-double toe loop combination and quickly followed up with a springy triple loop. Using the music to the movie Love Story, Alba included delicate finishing touches to her required elements to make her program very special.

In a surprise second place is Amanda Dobbs (Peninsula SC), who is the current Central Pacific Regional champion. Like Alba, Dobbs included a triple Salchow-double toe loop combination in her arsenal, but only managed a double loop, and that kept her just out of first with 48.07 points.

Finishing in third place was Anna Malkova (All Year FSC), who, despite a fall on her opening triple Lutz, was able to hold off pre-event favorite and rink mate Ellie Kawamura. Malkova's technical prowess and improved choreography earned her 45.26 points, which allowed her to just slip ahead of Kawamura, who scored 45.18 points.

Thirteen-year-old Kawamura was seemingly heading for first place with her inspired Claire de Lune program after opening with a beautiful triple Salchow-double toe loop combination. But after landing an easy triple loop, Kawamura had a miscue on her flying spin that caused her to restart the element. As such, Kawamura was given no credit for the flying spin, was scored with a non-required element by restarting the spin, and then finished with a combination spin that was counted as an extra element that received a score of zero.

"I was excited about skating so well that I just forgot to think," lamented Kawamura. "Still I think that what I did was pretty good, and I will work to do better in the free skate."

Kawamura's teammate, Victoria Rackohn, missed her combination jump to finish just .02 of a point behind her friend.

"I was a little nervous," admitted Rackohn. "I just didn't stand up straight on the combination, so I had to put my hand down and miss the double toe at the end."

Competition continues on Friday afternoon beginning with the medals being awarded in novice dance, men, and ladies. Senior competition begins Friday evening, as does the junior pairs competition.