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Chase, Speroff lead novice pairs

Brittany Chase and Andrew Speroff lead after the novice pairs short program.
Brittany Chase and Andrew Speroff lead after the novice pairs short program. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(01/20/2008) - The top of the novice pairs standings at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships is the last place Andrew Speroff figured he would be back in August.

Speroff split with his partner of a year and a half, Amanda Luchau, at the end of August and was searching for a new one, little did he know she was right in his very rink.

After a tryout at the World Arena Ice Hall in early September, Speroff teamed up with 14-year-old Brittany Chase, who had never before skated pairs. In their first competition together, the 2008 Midwestern Sectional Championships, Speroff and Chase (Broadmoor SC) came in second behind clubmates Brynn Carman and Christopher Knierim.

Here in Saint Paul, the roles are reversed after the short program, with Speroff and Chase occupying the top spot with 37.35 points, ahead of Carman and Knierim (37.01), Kloe Bautista and Galvani Hopson (35.93) and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir (35.62).

"This is our second competition together, and it's weird it being in a place like this. There are so many people," Speroff said. "We handled it well."

The pair pointed to their group 5 Axel lasso lift midway through their "Soda Pop" program as the key element. They received a level four and a grade of execution of 0.01 for the move.

"After the lift, we just have spins and footwork," Speroff said. "Those are (a case of), if you know it, your body knows it, so you can relax and let your body take care of everything. You take your mind out of it. After the lift, we're just trying to sell it."

Chase and Speroff have forged a partnership, and developed a chemistry that defy the short amount of time they've been together.

"We get along really well," said Speroff, who finished fifth in novice at last year's U.S. Championships with Luchau. "(Brittany)'s really mature for her age. She's taken in so much info and absorbed it. She's always listening."

Carman and Knierim were fourth last year in novice, so anything less than a medal finish would be a disappointment to them. They were sailing along their "Chopsticks" program, with a huge double Lutz twist and an impressive group 5 Axel lasso lift, but they ran into trouble at the end, as she fell on both the double loop and the straight line step sequence.

Those missteps cost them the top spot, although they are just .34 points out of first.

"The main thing we were looking at is the component mark, which was pretty good," Knierim said. "I'm just happy about that."

Indeed, the team's program components score was 29.82, almost a point-and-a-half more than Chase and Speroff's.

In addition to Chase and Speroff, Carman and Knierin train regularly with other Dalilah Sappenfield-coached pairs teams like Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker and Jessica Rose Paetsch and Jon Nuss, who provided them a raucous cheering section during their skate on Sunday.

"It's awesome to train with them," Knierim said. "It helps everybody that we all keep pushing each other. It's a great environment we're in."

Bautista and Hopson (All Year FSC/Los Angeles FSC), who were 10th in novice last year, had as much fun with their Austin Powers program as could have been had. They were pleased to receive a level four on their pairs spin (on which they got a level three at sectionals), but they were bummed about only being awarded a level two for their Lutz twist.

Castelli and Shnapir (Smithfield FSC/Colonial FSC) bring the experience of having competed on the Junior Grand Prix circuit to this event, having finished 10th in Estonia last fall.

"That helped us so much," Castelli said. "It's a whole different level there, all different skaters, a different atmosphere. We (carried that with us) here at nationals."