by Michelle Wojdyla
For the novice dancers, earning a trip to St. Paul, Minnesota for the U.S. Championships in January came down to less than a point. The top three finishers distanced themselves from the rest of the competitors, but that final ticket to the Xcel Center was a battle to the very last twizzle.
Chloe Wolf and Rhys Ainsworth grabbed gold with 110.39, more than nine points ahead of the field. Their free dance to “Les Miserables” was strong and polished and netted 61.01 points. Their rotations were in sync with the beat of the music, a dramatic effect not lost on the judges, who awarded them their highest Program Component Scores in Choreography and Timing. Their elements all received their maximum level 4, minus their spiral sequence, which received a level 3. Out of the 36 Grades of Execution, the duo from Maine received no negative marks and five base marks of zero. Every other score was +1 or +2.
“Like yesterday, we just wanted to skate clean and we did,” Ainsworth said. “A little bobble here and there. We could have skated a little bit stronger, but it was good.”
The silver medal went to Katie Wyble & Justin Morrow, although they finished only fourth in the free dance with a score of 52.15. A second place in the compulsory and first in the original dance gave them a combined total of 101.13. The results left the couple with mixed emotions.
“We’re happy that we’re going [to nationals], but we’re disappointed that we didn’t skate our best,” Wyble said.
“It was kind of scary in the first section,” Morrow said. “Our spin got off to a slow start, and we had the twizzles right after it. I did an extra revolution. But then after that, it picked up.”
Wyble & Morrow were given only a level 1 spin with a -.5 GoE. The twizzles that followed were only level 2 and docked –1. The rest of the elements received all base or +1 and a lone +2.
At the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in August, Wyble & Morrow did not even have a free dance choreographed. Easterns marked its world debut.
“The actual theme is ‘gypsy nights of fun and passion’ or something like that,” Wyble explained.
Her partner smiled.
“I think our coach made that up, so it’s not really official,” Morrow said.
Perhaps the happiest ice dancers in Wake Forest, Una Donegan & Andrew Korda gave the state of Maine another piece of novice dancing hardware. Their second place in the free dance (55.70) pulled them up to third overall (97.55).
“It’s amazing!” gushed Donegan, who was floating a few feet off the ground.
“It really is!” gushed her equally airborne partner. “It’s such an amazing feeling.”
Skating to Sarah Brightman’s “Anytime, Anywhere,” the couple skated a flowing, seamless program that received all level 4s save a level 3 on their circular step sequence. A pair of –1s on their twizzles was the only blemish to their GoEs.
“I was a little worried going in today in fourth [place],” Korda said. “We had to skate clean and we did.”
“We went out and did what we do every day in practice,” Donegan said. “Our coaches have trained us very well.”
Last season’s intermediate champions made the successful jump to novice with the help of Hilary Gibbons and Justin Pekarek, their coaches at the Skating Club of Boston. Daily commutes from Maine were the norm. Unlike last season, when they received a bye directly to junior nationals, Donegan & Korda faced stiffer competition this year.
“Sectionals was just a completely different story than regionals,” Korda said. “So many teams, and all of them are really good.”
The final ticket to St. Paul came down to three teams. Harmony Risca & Avidan Brown finished third in the free dance (53.97), but it was not enough to overcome the error in the compulsory that cost them a spot on the podium.
During the Kilian, Risca & Brown hit their final pose facing away from the judges. The problem was not that they had dissed those scoring them. The problem was completing only five of the six required patterns of the dance. The couple, who has only been together for seven weeks, doesn’t know what happened.
“We were just in it and then all of a sudden we, like, stopped,” Brown said. “I guess we thought we did it [all].” When they realized what had happened, only one thought hit:
Technical Specialist Ron Kravette explained that missing an entire pattern caused the team to receive a zero for that portion of the dance. No additional deduction is taken. However, the sixth pattern of the Killian is worth the most, 3.40 points. Risca & Brown’s total competition score was 89.57. Liza Branella & Ben Nykiel’s pewter-winning total was 90.40.
“I can’t believe it! It’s exciting!” Branella said after finding out she and Nykiel were heading to St. Paul. “I’ve never had a partner before. I danced while I did freestyle, but he’s my first partner.”
Asked how Nykiel rates as a partner, Branella didn’t have a chance to answer before Nykiel himself replied.
“I’m an amazing partner,” he confessed. The Jersey girl laughed, but had to agree.
“He watches out for me.”
Natalie Wojton & Michael Soyfer placed fifth in the free dance and fifth overall with a score of 89.92.