McLaughlin, Brubaker to train with Nicks

Reigning U.S. pairs champions leave Sappenfield

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker won their second U.S. title in January.
Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker won their second U.S. title in January. (Michelle Harvath)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(05/22/2009) - Two-time U.S. pairs champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker are ending their professional relationship with Dalilah Sappenfield and will train with John Nicks in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

"After careful consideration, and with support from Dalilah, Keauna and I made the decision to make this change as we approach this very important season," Brubaker, 22, said.

"We look forward to working with Mr. Nicks this season to attain our goals of qualifying for the Grand Prix Final, retaining our U.S. title and preparing for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games."

McLaughlin and Brubaker were teamed by Sappenfield in early 2006. They achieved fast success, winning every competition they entered their first season, including the 2007 U.S. junior and 2007 world junior titles.

The following season they made their mark on the ISU Grand Prix, placing second at both the Cup of China and NHK Trophy, and won their first U.S. senior title. They did not compete at the world championships because McLaughlin, at 15, was too young under ISU rules.

This fall, the couple placed second to world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy at Skate America and won bronze at Skate Canada but missed qualifying for the Grand Prix Final. At the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Cleveland, a disappointing short program put them second to unheralded Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett going into the free skate, but they scrambled to win their second U.S. title by a slim margin.

Difficulties with side-by-side triple jumps marred their world senior debut in Los Angeles in March, where they placed 11th overall.

"It was disappointing and heartbreaking to work so hard and then come here and not skate to the best of our abilities," McLaughlin said at the time. "We're going to have our ups and downs, but it's important to take the positives and learn from each experience."

Today, the 16-year-old skater acknowledged the pair's debt to Sappenfield, who was named 2008 PSA Coach of the Year in large part for her work with the team.

"We are truly grateful to Dalilah for the dedication and passion she exhibited to bring us to the level we are at today," McLaughlin said.

Sappenfield offered words of encouragement.

"Of course it's hard to see your students move on, however, we all made this decision with a great deal of deliberation and forethought," the coach said.

"I wish them nothing but the best in their quest for Olympic gold, and I will continue to support them however they need me."

McLaughlin and Brubaker are turning to an icon of the sport. Skating with his sister Jennifer, the British-born Nicks won the 1953 world and European pairs titles. He coached Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner to five U.S. pair championships and the 1979 world title and JoJo Starbuck and Kenneth Shelley to three U.S. titles and two world bronze medals. On the singles side, he guided Sasha Cohen to a silver medal at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games.