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Healed Hicks gets fresh start with new coach

2011 U.S. junior champ to be coached primarily by Congemi, eyes return to prominence

Courtney Hicks displays the Gumby-like flexibility that made her a sensation at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Courtney Hicks displays the Gumby-like flexibility that made her a sensation at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(04/12/2012) - Courtney Hicks has a message to the skating world: She's back and ready to go.

The only difference is now she will skate with a new coach: Ken Congemi.

Hicks, the 2011 U.S. junior champion, saw her season come to an abrupt halt in early October when she injured her right leg during her second Junior Grand Prix event, in Milan. Hicks, who said she fractured her tibia and suffered a growth plate injury, was not expected to return to the ice until March. Instead, she beat those expectations by skating again in December and has been jumping for the past two months.

"I was really happy to get back on the ice, but it was a little odd at first because my balance was a little off," Hicks, 16, said. "I was all over the place. I was a little surprised with how quickly I came back, but my physical therapist had me get on the ice right away. I started skating right after I started walking again.

"Now," she added, "I just want to get my jumps more consistent."

She also hopes to regain her winning ways. In addition to claiming the U.S. junior crown in 2011, she also won a Junior Grand Prix event in Australia and was sixth at the 2011 World Junior Championships.

In her absence, other skaters have swooped into the spotlight, namely Ashley Wagner, with whom Hicks trained until this past week and who won the 2012 U.S. senior title, and Gracie Gold, who earned the 2012 U.S. junior crown and appears to be a promising talent.

Hicks made the move last week to train with Congemi at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif., not far from where she used to train primarily at Aliso Viejo with John Nicks. Hicks said she will continue to work with choreographer Phillip Mills and will take lessons from Nicks once a week, but Congemi will be her primary coach.

Among the most prominent skaters with whom Congemi has worked are Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek, Bebe Liang and Jennifer Kirk.

"I had known Ken for a while, and he seemed like a good choice for me," Hicks said. "He's known nationally and internationally, and I think change is good."

Congemi said he was surprised when he got the call that Hicks was interested in training with him and said he contacted Nicks before she had a lesson in El Segundo last week.

Congemi said Nicks gave him his blessing.

"It was hard to leave Mr. Nicks," Hicks said. "It's not as bad because I'm going to still be working with him, but I'm pretty much going to be [in El Segundo] every day."

Although Congemi has barely had a week of work with Hicks, he said is excited about their new partnership.

"She wants to do this, and she has a great work ethic," Congemi said. "I have coached a lot over the years and the work ethic is really a big part of it."

Already, people have been asking Congemi all sorts of questions: How is her leg? How well can she jump? Where will she compete? What will her programs look like?

He said his response is to handle everything in a methodical way.

After all, it's only been a week.

"I really just want to go one step at a time," he said. "I don't want to rush things."

One thing they won't have to rush is preparing programs for the upcoming season. That's because while Hicks was sidelined, she used her time off wisely and worked with Mills on selecting music and planning out a short program and a free skate.

Although she won't reveal her music selections just yet, she will say she would like to have a triple-triple in her repertoire. She even went so far as to say she would like to have a triple Axel and perhaps a quad in her arsenal.

Right now, however, Congemi is thrilled to see she has her triples in good shape. She reeled off triple Salchows, toes, flips and Lutzes in her first lessons.

"She looks good, and her jumps were beautiful," Congemi said. "I was really happy to see that."

Most important, Congemi said, she is in no pain at all.

Hicks said she actually did not feel much pain when she first suffered the injury in Italy.

"I think that's because I took the pain pills quickly," she said, able to laugh a little months later.

The hard part was being sidelined. After winning the junior title at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C., plenty of expectations were placed on Hicks. She had hoped to compete in her first nationals at the senior level in San Jose, Calif., in January, but instead went to the competition as a spectator.

"It started out pretty difficult," she said of being in San Jose. "But then I came to peace with it, and I thought, 'Well, there's always next year.' "

For Hicks, next year cannot start soon enough.