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Aaron, Settlage top novice pairs short program

Liu, Perini stand second; Fields, Pacini in third

Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage head into the novice pairs free skate in first place.
Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage head into the novice pairs free skate in first place. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2011) - When Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage won the novice short and free skate events at Indy Pairs Challenge in August, they had only been teamed together six weeks.

Now, with six months training under their belts, they're a third of the way to the U.S. novice title.

The Colorado Springs-based team set the standard with 40.33 points, some 1.69 over Chelsea Liu and Devin Perini. Caitlin Fields and Jason Pacini are third with 37.82.

"Ever since Indy, we've been working on improving our connection and unison on the ice," Settlage, 18, said. "We really want to perform the programs and get into character."

"I thought that was one of our best performances -- not necessarily element-wise, but performance-wise," Aaron, 16, said.

In addition to solid elements, the pair showed good speed and polish in their short to Debussy's "Clair de Lune," hitting a double twist; throw double Lutz; and side-by-side double loops, with their arms in ballet position.

"Everyone is doing double loops, so we wanted special arms, to add to the Grade of Execution [GOE]," their coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, said. "Actually, they've been working to add more ballet to the program.

"The first thing they said coming off the ice was, 'That was a lot of fun,' so I'm happy. And most of their elements got pluses [from the judges] so that makes me happy, too."

Liu and Perini, who train in California under U.S. pairs greats Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, sent the crowd roaring with an energetic "Can Can" routine.

Liu, an 11-year-old spitfire who weighs just 52 pounds, held her own with her 17-year-old partner, landing a throw double Lutz as well as side-by-side double loops and a double twist. They earned 38.64 points.

"Chelsea came to the rink to take singles from Todd, and she had pairs experience, so we thought, 'let's give it a try,'" Meno said. "At first, we weren't sure about it because of the size difference, or whether they should do novice or intermediate, but they practiced well together, and we decided why not try to make it to nationals. After all, all 11-year-old pair girls grow."

Liu's weightlessness does make one move especially challenging.

"He has picked her up off the ice a few times in the pair combination spin," Meno said.

Fields and Pacini were also solid, notching 37.82 points for their short to A Bug's Life.

"It was our best short ever," Pacini said. "This is a lot bigger crowd than we expected. I liked it."

The Arizona-based team was the only one of the top finishers to do a throw double Axel, the most challenging double throw, and they earned 4.50 points for that move alone.

"You can only do double throws in the [novice] short, so we figured, go for the gusto and do a throw double Axel," the team's coach, former Canadian pair champion Doug Ladret, said. "We're planning a throw triple Lutz in the free skate."

Audrey Goldberg and Joseph Dolkiewicz, who are coached by two-time Olympic bronze medalist Isabelle Brasseur and her husband, two-time U.S. pair champion Rocky Marvel, are fourth with 36.27 points.