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Team Braemar seizes junior gold at U.S. Synchros

Runners-up Chicago Jazz already looking to improve at world juniors

Team Braemar will compete in the junior division at the Spring Cup.
Team Braemar will compete in the junior division at the Spring Cup. (Paul Harvath)

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By Becca Staed, special to icenetwork.com
(03/07/2009) - The buzz continued to surround surprise victors Team Braemar after securing gold, its second-ever national medal, Friday night following the junior free skate at the 2009 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships.

Coach Pam May's 20 years of coaching has finally paid off. After earning silver medals earlier this season both at the World Junior Qualifying Competition and the Spring Cup it seemed only natural that Team Braemar would round out the set with gold.

"Every year we try to take advice and get our team just a little bit better and work with the skill that we have and the finances that we have," May said. "Some years are better than others, and things just happened to go in our favor this year."

Though May has seen many talented teams in her coaching years, she said this year's team connected unlike any other. "This sport has a lot more than just skating to offer," she said. "It's been a lot of hard work, but they will cherish the friendships they've made forever."

The team stepped outside of its comfort zone to deliver a more serious performance than usual to the Quest for Camelot movie soundtrack.

"It was a real challenge at first because we have never done anything dark," May said. "They are sweet, adorable girls. It isn't my style or theirs, so we had to come out of the box and make something we haven't done before."

The victors executed a wonderful Level 4 circle as well as an equally strong Level 4 wheel, both of which earned a 1.71 Grade of Execution (GOE) for 13.82 points combined. They also delivered a Level 3 no hold block and an impressive Level 4 block to finish. Of the top three medalists, they were the only team to skate without a deduction, collecting a personal best free skate score of 112.25 for a 178.93 competition mark that led by nearly 14 points.

In a far-off second, the Chicago Jazz were a bit less enthusiastic as coach Lisa Darken ruminated over unexpected deductions that she hopes to correct before her team heads to the World Challenge Cup for Juniors next week.

"I am not seeing all the mistakes in the technical, so I am going to have to do some research and get some help," Darken said. "It's hard because the kids will work for you and do whatever you want, but if I am not having them do the right things I am going to need the extra help."

Darken believes experience will help her team rebound, having been in a similar position two years ago after the team made costly mistakes at the 2007 U.S. Championships to finish fourth but bounced back to collect bronze at the World Juniors in England. "They are experienced and understand what needs to be done."

In hot pink dresses, the Jazz displayed a sassy free skate to "I'll Fly Away" and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," which featured a Level 4 moves-in-the-field sequence. Their 104.87 free skate score gave them 164.96 total points.

The Lexettes moved up from fifth-place in the short to win the bronze medal for the second year in a row, bringing coach DeDe Wilson to tears.

"They have had a tremendous focus on getting stronger and having two strong programs this year," she said. "Last year, we were kind of catching up with the long, and it was a pleasant surprise at the end. This year we were really driven to put the total package out there."

The Lexettes delivered, opening their Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull free skate with their strongest element -- a Level 4 circle -- that Wilson praised for its clean edges and excellent presentation. Their 99.71 free skate score gave them 158.75 overall.

"It was very aggressive in terms of their mindset and what they put into it," she said. "They fought to the end."

Fourth place went to the Colonials, which moved up from sixth place after the short program. Each girl wore an oversized white starfish in her hair for the inspirational water-themed free skate, to selections from the Titanic and The Little Mermaid movie soundtracks, which brought the crowd to its feet.