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McLaughlin and Brubaker ready to go

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker would like to continue their strong season at the senior level with a pairs national title this week.
Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker would like to continue their strong season at the senior level with a pairs national title this week. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/21/2008) - When 2007 world junior pair champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker withdrew after the short program at the Grand Prix Final in December, hopes for their first U.S. title seemed dim.

The prognosis worsened when the 21-year-old Brubaker was diagnosed with cellulitis, a potentially serious skin infection, in his left foot.

But in the five weeks since, the skater has recovered well, thanks to massive doses of antibiotics.

"His health was a big issue, but he's doing much, much better," the team's coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, said. "His foot is almost 100 percent, and they've been training well for three-and-a-half weeks. Everything seemed to come back the first day they went back on the ice."

The ever-cheerful coach even thinks the injury may have an upside.

"It could be a blessing in disguise, because it gave them a rest," she reasoned. "But no matter what happens, the foot is not an excuse for us. Keauna and Rockne got here on Saturday, and they started practicing today [Monday]."

Sappenfield is well on her way to creating a pairs dynasty in her home rink, Colorado Springs' World Arena. She is juggling nine teams at this event, most in the novice and junior divisions. One, Brynn Carman and Christopher Knierim, won the novice title this afternoon.

"I don't do it all myself; I have a great staff that works for me, including Keauna's mother, Lei'Ina," Sappenfield said. "It's actually very easy for me to keep up.

"The skaters all deserve a lot of credit as well; they take their training very seriously. They appreciate how difficult competing is. There are not a lot of egos; they're all supportive. Even teams that compete directly against each other are friendly."

Knierim, the new novice champ, agreed.

"It's a good atmosphere for all of us to work in," the 20-year-old skater said. "Each team pushes the others. Having so many elite skaters around is a great training tool."

McLaughlin and Brubaker, who won silver medals at both the Cup of China and NHK Trophy earlier this season, are one of the favorites for the pairs title in Saint Paul. However, McLaughlin -- who was born on Sept. 25, 1992 -- is too young under ISU rules to compete at either the 2008 World Championships or Four Continents Championships.

"This is still a building year for them," Sappenfield said. "Whatever happens, they've already made names for themselves on the senior level."