Aaron, Settlage find calm, soar to junior pairs lead

Simpson, Blackmer rise to occasion, sit second; Calalang, Sidhu show fight, land in third

Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage are looking to add a U.S. junior title to the novice championship they won in 2011.
Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage are looking to add a U.S. junior title to the novice championship they won in 2011. (Jay Adeff)


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By Josh Ellis, special to
(01/22/2013) - Graceful and elegant, Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage looked seasoned and well-trained as they performed "The Swan" to the top score in the junior pairs short program at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Neb.

The duo were at ease on the ice, and it showed.

"We felt really calm, and that was our key out there and how we were able to do a performance like that," Settlage said.

Sixth at this event last year, Aaron and Settlage earned success on the international stage this season, with a bronze medal at Junior Grand Prix Lake Placid.

Confidence, along with a new mindset, helped Dalilah Sappenfield's pupils to the top spot on Tuesday.

"We have been training like we want to compete," Settlage said. "We have been trying to keep everything even and calm."

Aaron and Settlage earned a positive grade of execution on each of their seven elements, including a throw triple Salchow which earned 5.20 points. The duo also earned the top components score.

In second place are last year's silver medalists, Britney Simpson and Matthew Blackmer, who are also coached by Sappenfield. They earned 50.25 points for their short program and were happy with the performance in what has been an up-and-down season for the duo.

"I'm really excited, and that's what we have been training at home," Simpson said. "We just had so much fun out there, celebrating now, but getting ready for tomorrow as well."

The program, performed to "Flamenko," boasted the event's highest scoring element, a throw triple Salchow which earned 5.40 points, and a Level 4 spin.

"That's been one of our better elements," Simpson said of their side-by-side spins. "He calls and I spot, and it seems to work out nicely."

In third place are last year's pewter medalists, Jessica Calalang and Zack Sidhu, with 48.32 points. Despite the top-three placement, the duo, coached by Olympians Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, said things could have been a bit better.

"It wasn't perfect, but we definitely fought through and did a good job," Calalang said.

"The Axel and the throw Salchow were a little wonky," Sidhu added.

Last year in San Jose, Calalang and Sidhu were in second after the short but finished fourth overall. They're ready to attack the free skate this year.

"We have been training really well for the last few months, so we are really excited to show what we can do," Calalang said.

Last year's novice champions, Chelsea Liu and Devin Perini, are in fourth with 47.20 points.

"I thought it was a great performance," Perini said. "Our goal was to get our levels, and I think we did. We came out and wanted to do the best we could and skate like we were back at home."