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Brubaker, Marley happy to show off progress

Greensboro is a bonus; real push comes next season

Rockne Brubaker and Mary Beth Marley were the gold medalists at the Nestle Nesquik Cup in Torun, Poland.
Rockne Brubaker and Mary Beth Marley were the gold medalists at the Nestle Nesquik Cup in Torun, Poland. (courtesy U.S. Figure Skating)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/27/2011) - Whatever happens in today's pairs' short program, Rockne Brubaker will be happy.

"This is a developmental year for us," he said of his new partnership with Mary Beth Marley. "We're not the judges so we're just going to skate our best and let them decide where we are."

The 24-year-old Brubaker's easygoing attitude in Greensboro is the polar opposite of last season, when the two-time U.S. champion and his partner, the talented Keauna McLaughlin, struggled with Olympic-size expectations and pressure.

Highly touted to qualify for one of two U.S. pair spots at the 2010 Vancouver Games, they instead dropped to fifth-place at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Soon after, the partnership dissolved.

This season, it's not about placement for Brubaker; it's about experience, especially for his partner Marley, a 15-year-old Chicagoan.

"I could not be happier with the way things are going," Brubaker said. "It has only been about five months, I think pretty close to the day, that Mary Beth started pairs and we started together.

"She's done a great job handling it all and getting used to pair's skating and learning what it's all about. I think the progress that she's made and that we've made as a team, I couldn't have expected anything more."

That the two are competing at all this season is a testament to will and time management. Ever since their tryout, held in Orange County in August under the watchful eye of veteran coach John Nicks, it's been hurry-up-and-file-the-paperwork.

"We were both kind of iffy for different reasons," Brubaker said. "I wanted to compete this year but I didn't know if I would be able to, and then I'm thinking if someone hasn't done pairs before and has no tests, there's really no way I could compete.

"She had set up to do singles this year and that was kind of her focus. We decided to have the tryout and the tryout just went so well."

For Marley, there was just one deciding factor.

"The thing was, it was only if Rockne Brubaker was available; I wouldn't do pairs with anyone else," she said. "I never thought that was going to happen, then a lot of people pushed good thoughts into my head and that's why I went for the tryout."

After the session -- Brubaker recalls Marley was able to handle complicated lifts and also land a throw triple Lutz -- Brubaker cancelled other potential tryouts and called Mary Beth and her mother, Mary, to ask Mary Beth to skate with him.

Marley passed her first four US Figure Skating required pair tests in Chicago with Jeremy Allen, a former U.S. competitive pair skater. Then Mary found an apartment in California, moving there with Mary Beth and her younger brother.

Training under Nicks, Mary Beth quickly passed the remaining tests with Brubaker. They filed the necessary paperwork to enter U.S. qualifying competitions just a day before the September 1st deadline.

"We did a small competition [St. Moritz in Oakland, Ca.] I think three weeks after being together and then we said let's go for it, whatever comes of it is fine," Brubaker said.

The team was not required to compete at a U.S. qualifier, because few senior pairs were entered in their section. (They performed their competitive short as an exhibition in that event.) In December, they traveled to a small international in Poland, to gain experience and post a qualifying score in case they are assigned an ISU event (Four Continents and/or worlds) this season. There, they posted their first win, defeating the other pair entered.

"It was a good experience for us, the first time out internationally as a team and the first international event ever for Mary Beth," Brubaker said.

"We had a great short and actually a very good long; there was a little section in the middle [of the free skate] where we got a little shaky but I thought we skated well."

Brubaker and Marley -- who placed fifth in the highly competitive junior ladies' event here -- are already turning a few heads in Greensboro, showing solid elements in their early practices.

For their short program, choreographed by Christine Binder to music from the soundtrack to Elizabeth, they plan side-by-side triple toes; a throw triple Salchow; and the element that's proved most challenging, a triple twist.

"Everything is a struggle in the beginning but I think the one thing I really have to think about the most is the twist," Marley said. "It's the most different than anything I've ever done."

Brubaker has nothing but pride and admiration for his young partner.

"I personally think being a pair girl is by far the hardest job in figure skating, harder than being a female single skater, harder than being an ice dancer," he said. "It takes a special athlete to not only do it but do it well.

"I saw in Mary Beth a fighter with a tremendous work ethic. With someone like that, it's hard to put limits on anything and that's why we decided to compete this year. Next year we really look to make a push. Everything now is just bonus. We're just out here to give it our best."