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Comeback win at Pacific Coast Sectionals

Tenile Victorsen came from fourth place after the short program to clinch her first gold medal at the senior level.
Tenile Victorsen came from fourth place after the short program to clinch her first gold medal at the senior level. (Jay Adeff)

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By J.R.Walker, special to icenetwork.com
(11/18/2007) - The final day of competition at the 2008 Pacific Coast Sectionals in San Diego finalized the roster of skaters who would be traveling to the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championship in January to compete against our country's best. In the spotlight today were the pairs competitors from the novice, junior, and senior level, as well as the junior and senior men and ladies. For the dancers, only the junior skaters saw action today as there was no senior dance competition.

Novice Pairs Free Skate

Kloe Bautista (All Year FSC) and Galvani Hopson(Los Angeles FSC) won the gold medal with a program that was highlighted by a beautiful throw triple loop.

Christine Gueterres and Steven Hsu (both of the All Year FSC) were second, while Tori Vollmer (Inland Empire FSC) and David Sparks (Los Angeles FSC) remained in third. Rounding out the top four was the Peninsula Skating Club's duo of Taylor Hermerding and James MaMoody.

Junior Men's Free Skate

Keegan Messing (Anchorage) went to battle today in the junior men's free skate against competitors he calls the "Goliaths" to his David. In fifth place after the short program on Friday, the tiny 15-year-old won the free skate today but lost the war to Max Aaron (Coyotes FSC of Arizona).

"I used to be intimidated by my competitors," admitted Messing. "But now I'm over it."

Messing was the only skater of the day who attempted a triple Axel, and he went for two of them. The first was landed with such security that he decided to go for another one late in his program. This time, however, Messing stepped out of the jump, but he still managed five other triples to earn 120.59 points for his free skate and 173.05 points overall.

Aaron, also 15, was able to maintain a lead over Messing due to his strong effort in the short program. The first-year junior is also a competitive hockey player who will jump on a plane on Sunday to head home for a tournament. Aaron landed seven clean triples, including a flip and Lutz in combination, to finish with 119.25 points in the free skate and 177.06 overall.

"I think that my jumps and footwork went well today," reflected Aaron. "I'm going to go home and work on my overall skating so that I can increase my second mark."

Leading after the short program, Richard Dornbush (All Year FSC) had to settle for the bronze medal after a rocky performance. Dornbush opened strong with a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, but then fell on a double Axel immediately after. The second-year junior then regrouped to land two more triple jumps before popping a planned triple Lutz into a single and falling on a planned flying sit spin.

"I am just coming back from an injury that occurred two weeks ago," admitted Dornbush. "I'm frustrated that I messed up on the easy things, but was able to manage the difficult things." Earning the final spot on the podium and a trip to St. Paul, Minn., was Andrew Gonzales (All Year FSC), who had a strong opening by landing three clean triples. After that, however, Gonzales started to show signs of fatigue, and was unable to cleanly execute his next three jumps. In the end, Gonzales landed a total of four triple jumps and earned a competition total of 164.85 points.

Junior Ladies Free Skate

Coach Tammy Gambill had her hands full with the junior ladies today. Of the five ladies in the final flight of skaters, Gambill coaches three of them.

"I've been busy," smiled Gambill. "But tomorrow I am playing golf with my dad, so I will have plenty of time to relax."

Most would agree that Gambill deserves a trip to the greens after spending most of her week held up inside a chilly San Diego ice rink while the sun shone above blue skies outdoors. Even after her skaters were finished, Gambill worked with a parent of one of her novice men's competitors to get his registration paperwork complete for the U.S. Championships.

"I can't relax until I know what their placements are," Gambill said as a small crowd waited next to an empty results board. "I hope that they all make it to nationals." When the results were finally posted, Gambill watched her students one by one look for their name on the results sheet. She quickly learned that one of her skaters, 14-year-old Ellie Kawamura (All Year FSC) won the title over another 14-year-old, Carolyn-Ann Alba (All Year FSC).

Gambill also coaches the bronze and pewter medalists, Amanda Dobbs (Peninsula SC) and Victoria Rackohn (All Year FSC), respectively.

Kawamura came from behind after the short program to win the title with a beautiful program that included five triple jumps.

"I was a little bit nervous, but I was definitely more relaxed as the program went on," admitted Kawamura. "Before I skated I was able to concentrate and clear my head so that I could focus on performing."

After placing fourth in the short program, Kawamura felt like she had something to prove to herself. She made a silly mistake on her flying spin in the short program that, because of a scoring technicality, caused the skater to receive no credit for two of her other spins in the program.

"Having that happen was a great learning experience for me," said an optimistic Kawamura. "I learned that I have to focus on all of the little things under the new judging system, and I am so glad that the mistake didn't affect my placement in the end."

Leading after the short program, Alba skated an uneven performance on Saturday that showed great promise with the program components. Alba was only able to manage a fourth-place finish in the free skate after making several jump errors, but she hung on to win the silver medal on the strength of her short program score.

"I had to pull my way through that performance, but I am very excited because this is the first time I have performed both of my programs without falling," gushed Alba.

Another one of Gambill's students, Amanda Dobbs (Peninsula SC),won the bronze medal. Dobbs skated a tentative program that included three triple jumps but did not have the flair and attention to detail that some of her other competitors had. Even so, Dobbs was rewarded with high levels on her jump elements and was able to edge out her training mate, Victoria Rackohn (All Year FSC), for third place.

Junior Free Dance

In a strange twist of fate, Rachel Tibbetts (Broadmoor SC, Inc.) and Collin Brubaker (All Year FSC) won the gold medal in the junior dance competition without placing first in any of the three phases. Skating a dramatic, character-themed program to "Tosca," Tibbetts and Brubaker placed third in the free dance, but their lead over Rachael Richardson (Detroit SC) and Brad Coulter (Spokane FSC) proved to be enough for the win.

"Ironically, our compulsories are not are strongest phase of competition," admitted Brubaker. "We really excel at the free dance."

Finishing with the silver medal, Richardson and Coulter won both the original free dances but still trailed the winners by 2.19 points at the end of the competition. Richardson and Coulter earned level fours for each of their elements, except for their level-three step sequences. Skating to an Argentine tango, the first-year team also earned positive grades of execution for each of their elements.

In third place was Kaylyn Petitucci (St. Moritz ISC, Inc.) and Karl Edelman (Ann Arbor FSC), while Michelle Pennington (All Year FSC) and Andrew Skillington (Broadmoor SC, Inc.) held on for the pewter medal and earned the final available spot to compete a the U.S. Championships.

Senior Men's Free Skate

What a difference a day makes. On Friday, the senior men gave one of the best demonstrations of competitive skating in recent history, but on Saturday, the winner was determined by who made the least mistakes.

After finishing in fifth place in the short program, Dennis Phan (All Year FSC) just wanted to skate a clean program to try to help him move up in the standings and earn a trip to the U.S. Championships. Phan's no risk, play-it-safe approach ended up winning him the gold medal in San Diego, after each one of the skaters placed ahead of him made mistake after mistake in the free skate.

"I just wanted to skate clean," explained Phan. "I'm most proud of my determination today. I didn't attempt some of the more difficult jumps and combinations, but I was able to rely on my mental toughness to pull me through."

Phan executed five clean triple jumps, but was rewarded for his program components, and that is what propelled him to the win.

"David Wilson choreographed my free skate. His programs help each element to flow into the next, so the program actually moves a lot faster for me than others in the past. I guess that really helped me tonight."

Finishing with the silver medal was 21-year-old veteran Michael Villarreal, who skated the most technically demanding program of the evening but was not able to score as many points on the program components as most of the other competitors.

"I was just focusing on the jumps tonight," admitted Villarreal. "And before I was done with an element, I would already be thinking about the next jump."

Villarreal opened his program with a beautiful triple Axel-double toe loop-double loop combination jump that scored 11.30 points. He continued on to execute a total of seven triple jumps in his program. However, Villarreal was given an edge deduction on both of his triple Lutzes, and that kept him just behind Phan in the final standings.

"I'm glad that what I did was enough to qualify for nationals," said a relieved Villarreal. "I am really starting to enjoy skating again, and for nationals I hope to have more content to help me be more competitive."

Winning the bronze medal was Geoffry Varner (Peninsula SC), who opened his Gladiator program with powerful choreography, but he made a mistake on his opening element, a triple flip. After landing a clean triple Lutz-double toe-double loop combination and three other triples, Varner began to lose steam for the rest of the program. Still, he was able to hold on to one of the four tickets to the U.S. Championships in January.

Overnight leader Douglas Razzano (Coyotes SC of Arizona) skated like a different person in the free skate. He made five jumping errors, including two falls in his dramatic "Tosca" program. He did score well enough on his program components to earn a berth to the U.S. Championships.

Razzano's status for the upcoming ISU Junior Grand Prix Final is still in flux. As the first alternate, he is waiting for the official call to start preparations.

"I wasn't even sure that I was going to have to skate here right up until the short program," explained Razzano. "I am just relieved that I have qualified for the U.S. Nationals."

Former U.S. Championships competitors Nicholas LaRoche (All Year FSC) and Jordan Wilson (Santa Rosa FSC) did not qualify for this year's competition. LaRoche may be called upon to skate as an alternate should Razzano be invited to compete in the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final, but no decision has been made at press time.

Senior Pairs Free Skate

With only three teams competing in San Diego, each duo was assured of qualifying for the U.S. Championships in St. Paul, Minn. The leaders after the short program, MeeRan Trombley (Broadmoor SC, Inc.) and Laureano Ibarra (All Year FSC) easily won the competition with a personal best score of 143.88 points.

The second-year team earned 7.03 points for their split triple twist, and level fours on all three of their lifts to help propel them to the win.

"Our lifts went very well tonight," Ibarra declared. "They are some of our best elements. For me, lifts are my breathing time. They are easy for us to do, so I enjoy performing them."

The program was not without errors, however, as Trombley did not complete the side-by-side double Axel and fell on the throw triple loop.

"We had some mistakes," said Trombley. "But in general, it is satisfying for us to keep improving with each competition."

Winning the silver medal with a sloppy performance was the tandem of Katie Beriau (Charter Oak FSC) and Alexander Merritt (Los Angeles FSC), while Laura Lepzinski (Detroit Skating Club, Inc.) and Ethan Burgess (All Year FSC) remained in third. Junior Pairs Free Skate

Chelsi Guillen and Danny Curzon (Coyotes SC of Arizona) outclassed the field at the 2008 Pacific Coast Sectionals and won the gold medal in convincing fashion with a total score of 128.45 points, seven points more than their clubmates Megan Gueli and Grant Marron.

Skating to the soundtrack from "The Mask of Zorro", Guillen and Curzon skated with polish that the other teams did not have. Though the duo made errors, Guillen and Curzon used superior program components to win the title.

Gueli and Marron won the silver medal with a classical performance that built as the program went on; however, errors on the singles elements kept the team from challenging the gold medalists.

Winning the bronze medals were Lisa Moore (ISC of Fort Collins) and Justin Gaumond (All Year FSC), while Arielle-Claire Trujillo (Los Angeles FSC) and Daniyel Cohen won the pewter.

Senior Ladies Free Skate

Three new faces and a seasoned veteran will be making the trip to compete in the U.S. Championships in January. Tenile Victorsen (All Year FSC) came from fourth place after the short program to clinch her first gold medal on the senior level with a feathery performance that was reminiscent of her coach's performances as an eligible skater.

"Angela [Nikodinov] helped to bring the joy back into my skating," explained a shy Victorsen. "She has helped me so much with my confidence, and that has helped me redefine my love of skating."

Victorsen unleashed four triple jumps, the most difficult being a triple loop, to win the title over clubmate Laney Diggs.

"I really felt accomplished at the end of my skate," Victorsen said. "Now I have to go home and train well so that I can increase my jump difficulty for nationals."

The 15-year-old Diggs will also compete on the senior level at the U.S. Championships for the first time. Skating to "White Concerto", Diggs earned high levels on her non-jumping elements to go with four clean triple jumps and win the silver medal.

"It feels really exciting to know that I will be competing at nationals," Diggs said. "But I know that I have a lot of work to do. My stamina and consistency were an issue here, and I am going to work on both of those things when I go home."

Diggs was most proud of her circular step sequence, for which she earned level three and positive grades of execution.

"That felt really good. I worked really hard on that element."

Reigning champion and overnight leader Danielle Kahle (All Year FSC) had one of those performances that a skater would like to forget, but was able to win the bronze medal on the strength of her short program score. Kahle finished eighth in the free skate, falling three times and receiving no credit for one of her jumping passes at the end of her performance.

Kahle did score well with her spins and step sequences, earning one level three and the rest level four to help her to hang on for third place.

Finishing with the pewter medal was a relieved Karen Zhou (All Year FSC), who was given credit for only two clean jumps in her program.

"I wasn't thinking about how clean my jumps were when I skated," shared Zhou. "I know now that I have to focus on that, and I will work on making sure that they aren't downgraded in the future"

Zhou skated a balletic performance that brought the audience on the ice with her. Skating with the confidence of a seasoned veteran, the 16 year-old will be making her first trip to the U.S. Championships.

"I'm never nervous when I compete," Zhou said. "Once you are ready to compete, you are just ready. There is nothing you can do about changing your training when you hit the competition ice. All of the work has been done, and you just have to do what you are trained to do."

Finishing in the dreaded fifth place for the second year in a row was Tashe Smith (The SC of San Francisco), who finished third in the freeskate with an entertaining performance to "The Pink Panther". Smith started out strong and landed four triple jumps and a double axel before losing momentum. Yebin Mok (All Year FSC) finished in sixth place.