By J.R. Walker, special to icenetwork.com
The second day at the Pacific Coast Sectional Championships
in San Diego, was highlighted by the announcement of the skaters advancing to the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
in the novice dance, ladies, and men's divisions. The senior competitors also took to the ice for the first time, and the junior dancers and pairs teams were one step closer to determining which skaters will advance to Saint Paul, Minn.
Novice Free Dance
Overnight leaders Lauren Ely (Palomares FSC) and Travis Mager (Columbia FSC) earned the first gold medal of the Pacific Coast Sectionals in convincing fashion, winning all three portions of the competition. The duo is in their first year of novice competition after earning the national pewter medal on the intermediate level last season.
"Our skate went very well today," said an excited Mager. "Things that only we and our coach know about weren't there, but we think that we did a good job."
Ely and Mager began training together on the advice of former coach Christine Binder. "She came to both of us one day and said that we should be dancers,"
giggled Ely. "So we started training together, and now we love dance."
After Binder relocated to Los Angeles from their east coast training location, the duo teamed up with Gregory Maddalone, a former national team member who left his government job to reacquaint himself with the sport that he loves.
"I really enjoyed their performance," gushed Maddalone. "They really brought their skating to the audience, and I am so proud of them."
Ely and Mager used intricate footwork and handholds in their Bobby Darrin medley free dance that earned a total of 59.30 points for a competition total of 106.25.
Moving up from third place to clinch the silver medal was Elyse Matsumoto (Peninsula SC) and Patrick Mays (Ann Arbor FSC) with an inspired performance that left the team barely able to stand on their own blades after it was over.
"We were both sick with a virus last night," explained a pale Mays. "We are happy to just get through the program."
The duo skated a Middle Eastern themed program that earned them 56.69 points for a competition total of
101.19 points. Matsumoto and Mays had difficulty with their twizzle sequence, earning only a level two with negative grades of execution, but recovered well with a nice combination lift and dance spin to close the program.
"I am proud that even though we made some mistakes, we still went out a performed our best," admitted Matsumoto. "We have only been on the ice together for two and a half months, so we are very pleased to skate as well as we did."
Winning the bronze medal with a sultry program to "Caravan" were Elizabeth Lewis (Philadelphia SC & HS) and Baxter Burbank (Fairbanks FSC). Lewis and Burbank earned 54.58 points for their free dance that included three level four lifts.
"The lifts worked very well today," said a proud Burbank. "But our footwork was a bit tentative. For nationals we will work on improving our grades of execution, but for now we are very pleased with our placement."
Earning the pewter medal and the final spot to the national championships was Hayley SooHoo (Los Angeles
FSC) and hometown boy Brett Ryan (San Diego FSC).
"We have never had such an audience as we did today,"
admitted SooHoo. "I'm so excited that we qualified for nationals!"
Novice Ladies Free Skate
In a very tight novice ladies competition, 14-year-old Victoria Hecht (Los Angeles FSC) lived up to the pre-competition hype by winning the title and a trip to Saint Paul. Hecht, who will be competing on the national level for the second year, opened her program with a nice double Axel-double toe combination and quickly landed a triple Salchow to follow. Though Hecht was given edge error deductions on both of her double Lutz attempts, she managed to hold off her competition with a total of 104.19 points.
"In my program I am a gangster," giggled Hecht. "I like to skate the program with a lot of passion, and I think that I skated it very well today."
Winning the silver medal was Samiera Abou-Nasir (Yellowstone Valley FSC), who will be making her first trip to U.S. Championships in January. Like Hecht, Abou-Nasir opened with a clean double Axel-double toe loop combination, and then served notice to the rest of the competitors with a huge triple loop. Abou-Nasir also landed a solo double Axel and an under-rotated triple Salchow-double toe loop combination to earn 102.42 points in the competition.
"I really like competing, and I was very happy with the way I competed today," said a smiling Abou-Nasir.
"I didn't have anything to prove here, so I was just able to relax and enjoy my performance."
Winning the bronze medal and earning the highest program component scores of the night was 14-year-old Stephanie Rigley (All Year FSC). Rigley was only able to manage double jumps in her program, but promises triples in Saint Paul.
"I am working on perfecting my triples," explained Rigley. "I am working on the triple toe loop, Salchow, and loop and I hope to include some of them in my programs at nationals."
Rigley earned a competition total of 101.24 points to move ahead of overnight leader Song King (All Year FSC). It was the first time Rigley landed two double Axels in a long program, and she was pleased with overcoming that hurdle.
"I just needed to do what I know I could do, and that was exciting. I had a lot of fun today."
King skated an aesthetically beautiful program to traditional Chinese music, but made several jumping errors that caused her to fall to fourth place at the end of the competition. King received edge deductions on both of her double Lutz jumps, and also saw her double flip jump get downgraded for being short of rotation.
"Even though it wasn't my best, I am definitely proud of my skate," gushed King. "Making nationals is a wonderful surprise because my goal at the beginning of the season was to skate two clean programs at regionals."
Novice Men Free Skate
In one of the biggest comebacks in recent memory, David Wang moved up from a disappointing sixth place in the short program to win the freeskate, and gold medal with a technically demanding performance that left his fellow competitors in the dust. There were a total of 22 falls in the free skate overall, but Wang was only one of two competitors who stood up through his entire program.
"I'm surprised that I won," said the 13-year-old. "I was pretty happy that I was able to skate so well, but I didn't think that I would move up that far after finishing sixth in the short."
Wang executed five clean triple jumps, two of which were in combination, to outdistance his closest competitor by over 12 points in this phase of the competition.
"I landed a triple loop for only the second time in competition," admitted Wang. "I really concentrated on my jumps, and it paid off for me."
Finishing with the silver medal was the overnight leader William Knop (All Year FSC), who landed two clean triple jumps before falling on a third. Knop recovered to land a nice double Axel before losing steam at the end of his "Casino Royale program".
"I was very nervous today, and I think the adrenaline kicked in," explained Knop. "I was so tired halfway through my program, but I am happy that I was able to fight to the finish."
Knop earned a total of 118.93 points in the competition, and is looking forward to his first trip to nationals.
"I want to skate two good programs there," declared Knop. "I am going to go back home and train hard so that I can make that happen."
Winning the bronze medal was 18-year-old Michael Helgren (Santa Rosa FSC), who skated an impassioned program to music from the "Zorro" soundtrack. Helgren landed two triple toe loops and a double Axel-double toe loop combination to narrowly edge pewter medalist Sam Koch (Peninsula SC) in the freeskate. Both men will be making their first appearance at U.S. Championships in January.
Junior Original Dance
In an interesting competition, Rachel Tibbetts (Broadmoor SC, Inc.) and Collin Brubaker (All Year
FSC) stand in first place after the original dance, but the duo has not earned the top score in either of the two completed phases of competition. The overnight leaders, Michelle Pennington (All Year FSC) and Andrew Skillington (Broadmoor SC, Inc.) placed fourth in the original dance and are in fourth place overall, while Rachael Richardson (Detroit SC, Inc.) and Brad Coulter (Spokane FSC) are in second place after winning the original dance.
Tibbetts and Brubaker used their lead over Richardson and Coulter from the compulsory dance, to propel themselves into first place after the original dance.
Skating to a Russian folk rhythm, Tibbetts and Brubaker earned a level four for their straight-line lift, but were penalized for making small errors on their midline steps.
"Our step sequence wasn't the best that we have done,"
admitted Brubaker. "But my partner's performance was wonderful, so we have to be happy about that."
Training mates Pennington and Skillington skated to a Finnish folk rhythm in which both skaters made a mistake on the midline steps. Though they earned high levels for their lifts, Pennington and Skillington were given a one point deduction for holding one of their lifts beyond the prescribed time limit.
"We both stepped out of the twizzles on the step sequence, but we really sold the transitional moves,"
stated Skillington. "Even though we were a bit shaky, we really like this dance."
Richardson and Coulter received positive grades of execution on each on of their elements, and also earned level four on three elements in their Peruvian folk dance. The duo scored a total of 48.68 points in the original dance, and trail Tibbetts and Brubaker by
1.53 points leading into the free dance. In third place are Kaylyn Patitucci (St. Moritz ISC, Inc.) and Karl Edelmann (Ann Arbor FSC), with a competition total of 71.17 points.
Junior Pairs Short Program
Chelsi Guillen and Danny Curzon (both of Coyotes SC of
Arizona) took the early lead after the short program with a polished program to "Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings". The duo grab an almost five point lead going into the free skate after successfully executing side-by-side double Axels, and a level four pairs combination spin.
"We really focused on making a strong connection between us," explained Curzon. "Our program is about us sharing an emotional journey with each other, and we try to act as if we are alone in the arena when we perform it."
Guillen and Curzon earned 49.26 points in the short program, a personal best for the duo.
In second are Lisa Moore (ISC of Fort Collins) and Justin Gaumond (All Year FSC), who skated a clean program, but did not have the technical content that the leaders showed. The pair did earn level four on both their pairs combination spin and a group five toe lasso lift. In the end, Moore and Gaumond scored
44.88 points in this phase of the competition.
Rounding out the field are Megan Gueli (Detroit SC,
Inc.) and Grant Marron (Coyotes SC of Arizona) in third place with 43.57 points, Arielle Trujillo (Los Angeles FSC) and Daniyel Cohen (Elite Training
Academy) in fourth place with 40.90 points, and finally in fifth place, Claire Talbott (DuPage FSC) and Brendyn Hatfield (Seattle SC) with 38.94 points.
Senior Pairs Short Program
In their sophomore season together, MeeRan Tromley (Broadmoor SC, Inc.) and Laureano Ibarra (All Year
FSC) won the short program over a small field with a score of 48.37 points. Despite Trombley's being short of rotation and falling on the side-by-side double Axel, the team was able to hold of the other two teams by executing a nice split triple twist and a level four Axel lift that earned them a quarter of their points in the program.
"We have to work out some of the kinks in our program, but overall I am pleased with what we did tonight,"
remarked a philosophical Ibarra. "We are always chasing that ideal performance, and each time we compete we are getting closer."
Trombley added, "I am disappointed that I missed the Axel, but all of the other elements felt good. We have something to work on in looking ahead to nationals."
Finishing in second place was the duo of Katie Beriau (Charter Oak FSC) and Alexander Merritt (Los Angeles FSC), who had a difficult start to their program. The pair opened with side-by-side triple toes that were not only called short of rotation by the technical panel for the event, but also earned a deduction due to Merritt falling on the element.
After that, Beriau and Merritt had a crash on their first competition attempt at a split triple twist, that was followed by a flawed throw triple loop. After that, however, the team regrouped and skated the rest of the program without error.
"We have been practicing all of the hard elements,"
explained Beriau. "Though we made mistakes on several of our elements, we still felt pretty good about what we did complete."
Beriau and Merritt earned 43.38 points for their performance.
In third place was the new team of Laura Lepzinski (Detroit SC, Inc.) and Ethan Burgess (All Year FSC) with a score of 39.78 points.
Because only three teams are competing here, each team needs only to take the ice for the free skate to earn a trip to Saint Paul.
Senior Ladies Short Program
The top five finishers in the senior ladies short program all represent the same club: Culver City, California's All Year Figure Skating Club. Led by the reigning Pacific Coast Sectional champion Danielle Kahle
, the competition was exciting to watch from start to finish. With a fun program to music from the soundtrack of "Kill Bill Vol. I", Kahle opened her program with a triple flip jump, but Kahle had to fight to land cleanly. Next, Kahle moved right into her triple loop-double toe loop combination jump, and completed her jumping required elements with a nice double Axel.
"My jumps were a little off tonight," admitted Kahle.
"I was a little crooked in the air on the flip, so I am disappointed that I didn't show what my flip really looks like."
Kahle's quirky choreography was highlighted by interesting positions in her spins and spirals that were perfectly choreographed to the whimsical flavor of her music selection. Kahle was rewarded with the highest technical and program component scores of the competition, earning a total of 56.48 points in this segment of the competition.
"I am just really happy to get it over with and done,"
reflected Kahle. "I want to move on to the free skate and show what I really can do."
In second place was Karen Zhou, who was the only competitor to land a triple Lutz-double toe loop combination. Zhou also attempted a triple flip, but was not given full credit for the rotation of the jump. Still, the 16-year-old was able to hold off the rest of the field with her score of 49.77 points.
"I think that I can improve my jumps," insisted Zhou.
"And I need to add more choreography throughout the program."
Zhou's program was a mix of balletic and modern dance moves that complimented her long limbs and playful presentation style.
"I was supposed to be a mime that is happy at the start of the program," explained Zhou. "But as the program goes on, I begin to panic because my house catches on fire."
Ironically, Zhou and her training mates were evacuated from their training base at Lake Arrowhead, California, a few short weeks ago due to wild fires that were getting dangerously close to her rink.
"The fires didn't really affect us," said Zhao. "We had to leave for a while, but we were very lucky."
In third place was Laney Diggs, who fell on a triple lutz to start her program, but she regrouped quickly and skated the rest of her program without significant errors. In addition to a triple flip, Diggs was rewarded with high levels on all of her non-jump elements to earn a total of 47.75 points.
Finishing in fourth place was former national junior medalist Tenile Victorsen, who landed a clean triple toe loop to open her "Tosca" program. However, Victorsen had difficulty with the next element, a triple loop, and then missed her flying spin altogether before she was able to collect herself and regroup.
Using superior choreography and beautiful transitions, Victorsen relied heavily on her program components to keep her near the top of the leaderboard. For her short program, Victorsen earned 46.52 points.
Sentimental favorite Yebin Mok improved from her outing at the regional qualifier to finish in fifth place here. Mok opened with a nice triple toe, a jump that she missed at the regional competition, but then had a bad landing on a triple loop, that did not allow her to tack on a second jump to fulfill the combination jump requirements.
"My jump problems are a combination of a lot of things," admitted Mok. "It has been frustrating coming back to competition and not being able to do the jumps that were once easy for me to do."
Skating to Debussy's "Reverie", Mok sees her program as a dedication to her grandmother, who passed away several years ago.
"My grandma was the first love of my life, and I feel like she joins me out there on the ice in this program. Maybe that's why I am having a difficult time with this program. I try to open myself up to her in this program, but I love that I can share that with the audience."
Mok scored 43.68 points for her program, and is within striking distance of one of the invitations to compete in Saint Paul.
In sixth place, and the highest finisher of the non-All Year FSC competitors is Tashe Smith (The SC of San Francisco), who landed a nice triple flip-double toe loop combination and a triple Salchow for a total of 43.10 points. Smith, however, missed her flying spin and received no points for the element.
Senior Men's Short Program
(Coyotes SC of Arizona) won the senior men's short program, in what most consider to be the best senior men's short program in Pacific Coast Section history. Up until the very last second before Razzano took the ice, he was unsure if he would even need to skate here in order to qualify for the U.S. Championships in Saint Paul.
"I am the first alternate for the Junior Grand Prix Final, and it was reported that one of the finalists has withdrawn," explained Razzano. "We are waiting for official confirmation from the International Skating Union that I have qualified. As a finalist, I would receive a bye into nationals, and I wouldn't have to skate here."
Razzano opened with a strong triple Axel, and landed three other triples to compliment his intricate footwork sequences and demanding spins for a total of
67.86 points in this phase of the competition.
"This was definitely one of my best performances,"
Razzano admitted. "The triple Axel and combination spin were definitely the highlights for me."
In second place was Geoffry Varner (Peninsula SC) with a total of 61.29 points. Varner skated his best short program in recent history, opening with a clean triple flip-triple toe loop combination. After a mistake on his triple Axel, Varner landed a clean triple Lutz and showcased improved choreography and step sequences.
"I wasn't nervous tonight. I guess that helps me to skate better," guessed Varner. "We skated so late, that I just wanted to get it over with so I could go to bed. Overall I am very pleased with how well things went tonight."
Former sectional champion Nicholas LaRoche
FSC) finished in third place after fall on his triple Axel attempt, but the 24-year-old was able to harness his usual speed and channel it into strong choreography and fast spins to help him earn a total of 60.76 points.
"I was a little bit nervous tonight, and I'm not sure why," shared LaRoche. "I skated well enough, and since things are so close, all that really matters is what we do in the free skate. I am planning two triple axels in that program, and I think that I will be more competitive because of them."
Last year's champion Michael Villarreal (All Year FSC) landed all of his jumps, but earned level ones and twos on most of his other elements to keep him just behind the leaders. With 60.32 points, Villarreal is still in the hunt for the title, and promises some difficult jumps in the freeskate.
"I will be attempting two triple Axels and a triple-triple combination," stated Villarreal. "I really feel like I am skating the best I ever have."