Baga, Toth will 'Be Italian' at USFS pairs camp

Young pairs teams will be mentored by U.S. champions, top coaches in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Kiri Baga and Taylor Toth are happy with their decision to move to Boston.
Kiri Baga and Taylor Toth are happy with their decision to move to Boston. (Jay Adeff)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(06/05/2013) - U.S. pairs flock to Fort Wayne, Ind., this week for a few words of wisdom, a dose of camaraderie and some tools to help build long-term success.

The 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Pairs Camp, held at Lutheran Health Sports Center in conjunction with the first annual Fort Wayne Pairs Classic, kicks off on Friday with a short program competition for intermediate through senior pairs.

The weekend offers off-ice classes, on-ice group sessions and, for teams in the International Skating Pool (ISP), one-on-one monitoring sessions. Pre-juvenile through junior pairs compete free skates on Saturday.

"Competing so early in the season initially concerned me, but it's a great way to kick us into shape," said Taylor Toth, who, with partner Kiri Baga, moved to Boston three weeks ago to train under Bobby Martin and Carrie Wall.

"It's important to get the programs out there and get feedback," Baga said.

Martin, coach of U.S. pairs champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, and Jim Peterson -- who coached Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig to two U.S. silver medals -- lead some of the off-ice classes.

Topic one: how pairs can resist the urge to throw in the towel too early.

"We're going to share our experiences, what we've learned works for us," Martin said. "We're not behavioral psychologists, but we've had a lot of experience helping skaters try to gain success together.

"Part of it is making sure there is a very diligent process of matching the right partners, creating a win-win for everybody. And then, there's how you communicate, how you carry yourself, how that has an effect on everybody around you, including your partner."

Peterson emphasizes that when teaming up skaters, it's best to be patient and practical.

"No one has a crystal ball, but coaches have to ask themselves: Is this partnership economically feasible? Does it work in terms of age, and size?" he said. "We'll use the history of Amanda and Mark, who skated together for 10 years, and Castelli and Shnapir, who've been together seven years, and what we learned with those teams."

Three-time U.S. pairs champion Jenni Meno; Alena Lunin, skating director of Canlan Ice Sports at the Lutheran Health Sportscenter; Evora; and Indiana-based coach Serguei Zaitsev also take part.

Baga and Toth, who teamed up last year and placed eighth at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, trained under Jeremy Allen in Chicago last season. A desire to skate alongside elite teams, coupled with Baga's education needs, prompted the move to Boston.

"We were happy in Chicago, but there were no other senior teams on the ice," said the 18-year-old Baga, who will attend Simmons College. "I didn't really have any pair girls to relate to. Now, I can look up to other girls like Marissa, [whom] I aspire to be in so many ways. Training in the same environment as the national champions should have a profound effect on us."

"These last three weeks, we've been in a great place," Toth, 24, said. "We sat down with Bobby and Carrie and they listened to our concerns and laid out a very detailed plan of how we can accomplish our goals. It put our minds at ease. Having it all written down makes it less daunting."

Martin praised Baga and Toth's former coach, Allen, saying, "He made the transition as comfortable as possible. If I'm ever hiring another coach, he'd be one I'd pick."

On Friday, Baga and Toth will debut a new short choreographed by Rohene Ward to "Be Italian," the lively showstopper from the musical Nine.

"It's very fun, very different from last year's short," Baga said. "Hopefully, it shows the exciting side of our skating."

A blue-ribbon panel of judges and technical specialists will be on hand to serve up scores, but that's not Toth's biggest concern.

"We're focusing less on the elements, more on the program itself," he said. "Doing it so early is a great way to work out the kinks."

On Saturday, teams get a 45-minute feedback session to review programs and elements.

"Each pair is assigned to two officials, and you can discuss whatever you want -- footwork, transitions, choreography," Toth said. "That's another reason we decided to compete; we want to get as much out of this camp as we can."

"Take our step sequence, for example," Toth continued. "Without this camp, we would continue to work on it until Skate Detroit (in July), and then we would be told the level. It could be [marked] as a Level 2, when all it might have required was a slight change to get to Level 3 or 4."

Martin is pleased with his newest team's progress.

"Kiri and Taylor are making huge strides," Martin said. "Plus, they're hilarious. I wish I could record their conversations. If they ever get into the [NBC] truth booth, they'll get 20 million twitter fans. Hopefully, they'll show that side -- comedy, but with a little more sexy angle -- in the short program."

In Friday's competition, Baga and Toth, who placed sixth in their international debut at the 2013 Challenge Cup in The Hague, Netherlands, will face off against training partners Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff; and Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea, who are coached by Peterson in Florida. Seventh in the U.S. last season, Kayne and O'Shea won silver at the Challenge Cup.

Although Baga and Toth aren't too concerned about their score in Fort Wayne, they're hard at work upgrading their routines.

"In the past, Bobby and Carrie have reworked other teams' triple twists, and we're in that stage now," Toth said. "It's going well; we're onto something with it.

"We will also be doing two triples in our long, which we did not do last year, because the main focus was getting comfortable with the pair elements. It was Kiri's first season doing pairs. This year, we will be doing [side-by-side] triple Salchows and triple toe-double toe combinations."

Castelli and Shnapir will not compete, but will participate in the camp and receive monitoring, as will U.S. bronze medalists Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay. DeeDee Leng and Timothy LeDuc, ninth at the 2013 U.S. Championships and fifth at Challenge Cup, will also compete. Alex Shaughnessy and James Morgan of Boston, and Becky Bereswill and Joshua Reagan of the Detroit Skating Club, will participate as well.

"I'm thrilled to see all of the young teams coming," Martin said. "Marissa and Simon will be there to mentor and hang out with the intermediate and juvenile teams; to me, that's a big part of what this camp is all about."

Reporter's notebook: Baga, the 2009 U.S. novice champion, trains singles under Peter Johansson ... Donlan and Speroff will compete their new short, choreographed by Sheryl Franks, to "Meditation" from Thais. After placing fourth in the U.S. in 2012, the skaters were disappointed with their sixth-place finish last season. "Sometimes, going through tough times strengthens skaters' bond and resolve," Martin said. "They're in a totally different place this year. They're ready early, showing a lot of persistence and grit. I think they're going to have a breakout year."