Novice short goes to new partners Budd, Cheban

Zaitsev, Stevens slide into second; Middleton, Hennings claim third

Kaitlin Budd and Nikita Cheban jumped out to a 1.21-point lead in the novice pairs short.
Kaitlin Budd and Nikita Cheban jumped out to a 1.21-point lead in the novice pairs short. (Jay Adeff)


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By Troy Schwindt, special to
(01/20/2013) - Seven months ago, Kaitlin Budd was surfing the Internet looking for a pairs partner. On Sunday, she and Nikita Cheban from Russia are the leaders following the novice short program at the 2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"Our coaches are Russian and they kind of know each other," said the 16-year-old Budd, who is a member of the Detroit Skating Club. "My coach called his coach, we had a tryout and we decided to skate together. He moved to my rink, which was great."

Budd is coached by Sergei Petrovski, while Cheban is coached by Rashid Kadyrkaev at the Washington Figure Skating Club in the Washington, D.C., area.

In Omaha, the newly formed team turned in an entertaining and solid program to "Summertime" by Giovanni, including six elements that received positive grades of execution en route to 36.42 points. Their only real bobble came on their side-by-side double Axels, on which Cheban put a hand down on the ice.

"We did a lot of work after sectionals to improve ourselves," Cheban, 20, said. "Our score, with a few mistakes, is a point higher than at sectionals."

Sitting second is the third-year team of Christina Zaitsev and Ernie Utah Stevens of the Indiana World Skating Academy FSC. They generated 35.21 points with their disco-flavored ABBA program to "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!"

Their footwork and spins received Level 4, while their lift garnered a Level 3.

The program choice came from their coach, Sergei Zaitsev, who helped to choreograph the piece.

"When he said ABBA, I didn't know anything about them," said Stevens, who immediately went to the Internet to do some research. "He always seems to have our programs mapped out for us with the vision that he wants. Every program we do is for our level and age and fits right in."

Zaitsev, 13, and Stevens, 19, made their Junior Grand Prix Series debut last fall, which helped them in Omaha.

"Getting on Team USA was such an honor and a privilege," Stevens said. "Coming here, we wanted to go in confident; not treat it as a competition, but instead treat it like a show. It was fun, and we had a blast."

In third place is the Los Angeles FSC team of Elise Middleton, 13, and Robert Hennings, 16, who chalked up 33.74 points.

A Level 4 spin and a Level 4 lift helped their cause, along with the second-best program components score of the event.

"We missed a couple of elements (she turned out of the throw Salchow, while he popped his flip) that we didn't miss at sectionals, but our presentation was a substantial improvement over sectionals," said Hennings, who, with Middleton, performed to "The Skater's Waltz."

In fourth place is Aya Takai and Brian Johnson, who posted a score of 32.32 points.