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Aaron tests 'West Side Story', ends up with win

Mroz nearly lands clean quad loop; Miner: 'I didn't sell it'

Max Aaron, pictured here with coaches Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin, made a successful debut of his <i>West Side Story</i> free skate at Liberty.
Max Aaron, pictured here with coaches Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin, made a successful debut of his West Side Story free skate at Liberty. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/21/2012) - Max Aaron hadn't planned on competing at Liberty, but now -- after a solid run-through of his new West Side Story free skate, including a near-perfect quad Salchow -- he's glad he did.

"It's a new program -- four weeks old -- so I'm still trying to train it," the 20-year-old said. "It was a quick decision to do this one. I spoke with my coaches (Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin), and they said, 'It doesn't matter if you're completely ready -- let's get the program out, get input and go from there.' "

That could be the motto for this event, and it worked for Aaron, who rotated his quad Salchow before putting a hand down on the ice upon landing, still gaining 9.50 points for the element. He followed with a triple toe, likely a placeholder for another quad, and three more clean triples, including the Axel.

Although the Colorado Springs skater lost ground on his spins -- gaining just Level 1 on his two combination efforts -- his 136.30 points were good enough for first place.

"Last year, I think, we left [my program debut] too late," Aaron said. "This season, we wanted to have plenty of time to make changes. So I put a hand down on the quad, did a triple Axel-three turn-double toe and stepped out on a triple Lutz ... I know it's not a perfect performance, but we're going to get there."

Aaron's training partner, Brandon Mroz, opened his free to Bach's "Toccata and Fugue" with a stab at a quad loop, and this attempt fared far better than his effort in the short program. He fully rotated the jump before stepping out of it, earning 10 of the element's 12-point base value. He had triple Axel trouble -- falling on his first and singling his second -- but landed five other triples, including two Lutzes, and his 128.96 points gave him second place.

"Yesterday was a bad attempt [on the quad loop]; I probably would have popped it in practice, but I said '(Forget) it, you're competing, pull in,' " Mroz said. "Today was way better, way more efficient. I was kind of bummed -- I kind of just stepped out -- but I'm glad because at the Broadmoor [Open] I landed it in the warmup and fell in the program. Here, it was a good attempt. I'm glad I'm taking steps to get it where I want it to be."

Mroz, who landed quad Lutzes at the Colorado Springs Invitational and NHK Trophy last season, may try the Lutz later this season, but for now he is committed to the loop.

"No one has done the [quad] loop yet," Mroz said. "I've got the Lutz -- why not do the loop? It's still worth a ton of points. When I landed the Lutz, it reached out to so many people; if I could have the same effect on the loop, how great."

Zakrajsek supports his skater's ambition.

"Brandon still can do the quad flip and quad Lutz, but I think he's set the quad loop as his next goal," he said. "He's trying to improve other aspects of his skating; hopefully, today, that showed in how he attacked the components and in the intensity of his movements.

"I do think he knows he is a really good jumper, and he knows that is one of the ways he will leave his mark on the sport. It's a great message for young kids.

"One of the things Brandon says to me is, 'I never not learned a triple loop, triple flip or triple Lutz because they were harder than toe or Salchow, so why not learn quad loop, quad flip and quad Lutz?' "

Mroz has returned to "Toccata and Fugue," the program that won him a 2009 U.S. silver medal, and hopes to refresh the choreography with Lori Nichol.

"I'm trying to revamp it, trying to work out time with Lori; I'd be afraid to go revamp it with another choreographer," he said. "It kind of fits like a glove; I'm very comfortable with it. When I did have it, I was young and I didn't know my body that well, and I think it can evolve it into more."

Harrison Choate, who will compete in the upcoming Junior Grand Prix Series, had one of the cleaner programs of the event, earning the highest technical elements score (65.77 points) for a six-triple skate including a double Axel, triple toe sequence and a triple flip-double toe-double loop. He placed third with 127.61 points.

Fellow Skating Club of Boston skater Ross Miner opened his free to music from the 1939 Errol Flynn movie Captain Blood with a solid attempt at a quad Salchow, gaining full rotation on the jump before falling.

The U.S. bronze medalist fell on a triple Axel and landed four other triples, but the step sequences and transitions -- complete with brandishing sword -- promise well, and he earned 126.75 for fourth place.

"The quad, I had it; I just sat down, and I was a little upset about that," Miner said. "I made some stupid mistakes. We sort of watered down the program a little bit to focus on the quad and the skating.

"It was a good start; it needs a lot of work. I'm excited to get back home and start really putting in the effort to get it where I want it to be."

Miner is especially anxious to tackle choreographer Tom Dickson's lyrical footwork section in the middle portion of the program.

"I think I have to say, I didn't sell it," Miner said. "When I do it the way it's meant to be, with all the facial connection with the judges and audience, I think it will be very, very fun to watch and really cool."

Keegan Messing, winner of the short program, fell out of a triple Axel and fell on a triple loop in his new free skate to music from The Matrix. Still, his aggressive style gave him the highest program components score (66.16) of the event. He placed fifth with 122.34.