Wellman's fantasy skating preview: U.S. Champs

Tight battles to be played out in men's, pairs

Does Tara Wellman believe Ross Miner has what it takes to dethrone Jeremy Abbott?
Does Tara Wellman believe Ross Miner has what it takes to dethrone Jeremy Abbott? (Getty Images)


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By Tara Wellman, special to
(01/21/2013) - Nationals is a competition anticipated as much by the athletes as by the fans. It's the focus of the fall and winter for most Team USA skaters, and the event always provides memories that last a lifetime ... and champions.

This year features three reigning champs looking to hold onto those titles and a whole host of challengers nipping at their heels. All that means for us is, the fantasy battles will be fierce as ever!

Let's take a look.


Group A
Without the return of Evan Lysacek, we don't have to worry about the unpredictability of a comeback. However, the battle for gold might be tougher than it first appears. Jeremy Abbott could win his fourth U.S. title this week at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and he certainly has the goods to do so. But he's struggled with some back issues this year and has not had success with the quad. Ross Miner, on the other hand, has the highest international scores of all the U.S. men this year, recording 235+ at the NHK Trophy, good enough for bronze.

The battle will likely be between those two. Miner will put up a good fight, but I think Abbott still pulls it out and gets title No. 4.

Group B

There is so much talent in the men's field this year. With a handful of young guys who've made an impact on the junior international scene, veterans like Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Brandon Mroz and last year's fifth-place finisher Douglas Razzano will have their work cut out for them ... especially in the form of Max Aaron.

Aaron bested Mahbanoozadeh for gold at the U.S. International Classic to start the season, then took first at the Midwestern Sectional Championships with a final tally of 233.58 -- a score comparable to the top senior men internationally this fall.

The competition is stiff, but he's my "B" pick.

Group C

This is a group of guys just on the brink of a breakthrough. This year, though, I'm going with Alexander Johnson as the guy who makes a splash. If his 223.18 at Midwesterns is any indication, he's ready to step up his game.


Group A
There's no doubt Ashley Wagner is in a good place this season. She has had to deal with recovery from a hip pointer injury after a bad fall at the Grand Prix Final, but she easily has the highest scores of the top U.S. ladies this season. If she simply does what she's done all year, she'll likely be looking at her second national title in as many years.

Group B
This will give us a good look at the future of U.S. ladies skating.

Courtney Hicks has been surrounded by buzz since she first broke onto the junior scene. Hannah Miller, though, stole a bit of that spotlight with her own successful junior season. Three consecutive silver medals on the Junior Grand Prix circuit (including one at the Junior Grand Prix Final) and scores in the upper 150s and 160s leave her in good stead headed into nationals.

Caroline Zhang played spoiler at this event last season, but she has struggled to keep that momentum going this year.

I'm taking Miller in Group B.

Group C
Both Ashley Cain and Samantha Cesario earned their spot at nationals by winning at sectionals, and they did it by posting total scores upwards of the 160-point mark. Both have been there before, and that experience should help them in Omaha.

Cain -- who skated in the pairs event last year -- is only skating singles this year at nationals, and that should allow her to focus more on her own performance. But Cesario is on a comeback trail, after being forced to withdraw at the last minute from the 2012 U.S. Championships with an injury.

It will be close in this group, but Cesario is my "C" pick.


Group A
Without reigning champs Caydee Denney and John Coughlin to contend with, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir have to be the favorites in Omaha. With two solid skates on the Grand Prix circuit and a dominant win at the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria (over country mates Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff), this is their chance to take that step and win a national title.

Don't overlook the new team of Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim. They impressed in their Grand Prix debut at NHK with a very competitive 163+. But Castelli and Shnapir are my "A" pick.

Group B
This will be an interesting battle between Lindsay Davis and Mark Ladwig -- new as a team this year -- and Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin -- comfortable as a team but not truly able to put all the pieces together yet this year.

Both teams have top season scores in the 143 range, Vise and Baldwin consistently so. But Ladwig knows how to compete, and he and Davis have made significant improvements every time out.

The team that handles the pressure better will likely win this group. For me, that team will likely be Vise and Baldwin.

Group C
Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea qualified for nationals with a score of 137.72 in their win at Eastern Sectionals. That is more than 24 points better than the sectionals score of DeeDee Leng and Timothy LeDuc. With Kiri Baga and Taylor Toth in just their first season together, they would have to improve dramatically to pull off the upset in this group.

I'm taking Kayne and O'Shea in Group C.


Group A
Clearly, Meryl Davis and Charlie White are still in a class of their own ... literally. Despite the ever-increasing depth in U.S. ice dance, they still stand alone. The battle for medals will come from everyone else, but the top spot is, for good reason, all about the reigning champs.

Group B
All four teams in this group are wonderful. Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt may be having the best season overall, but the other three are more than capable of putting up exceptional scores.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani have a world team spot to defend. Don't let the slow start in the Grand Prix Series (because of an injury Alex was skating through) fool you: These two are the real deal. They have great programs this season and have spent time working out the kinks, especially in their short dance to the Yankee Polka.

They'll be pushed, but I still think the Shibutanis have what it takes to lead Group B.

Group C
It's not unlikely that the battle for Group C comes down to the Cannuscio sisters and their respective partners. Anastasia and Colin McManus competed at the U.S International Classic and then at Skate America to start the fall. But at Eastern Sectionals it was Isabella and Michael Bramante who topped the field, winning gold over Cannuscio and McManus by about three points.

That said, I expect Anastasia and Colin to call upon that international experience and skate well in Omaha. They're my "C" pick.

Good luck to the skaters and fantasy owners alike. May the ice be kind in Omaha!