by Melanie Hoyt

With a free dance score of 79.43 that edged their personal best from last year’s National Championships, Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell secured the Junior Midwestern Sectional title. Their dance, set to music by Apocalyptica, in a word, rocks. Their presentation is edgy, and I was particularly impressed with Keiffer’s ability to present his partner without fading into the background. I thought that Madison might have had a small trip in the midline step sequence, but other than that, the elements were performed well. The program needs more speed, but given that this was only their fourth run-through of the free dance, they can be cut a little bit of slack.

“We didn’t make any major mistakes,” Madison said, “and our goal was really just to get through it.”

When asked about goals for Nationals, Keiffer said, “[We want] to make the best appearance at Nationals that we can possibly make, to be stronger than we are here, and to hopefully make a more powerful impact.”

Madison wasn’t quite so conservative. “Also – to make it on the world team.”

In second, where they remained throughout the competition, were Piper Gilles and Timothy McKernan. With 72.27 points, they also broke their personal best, although they did not appear to be thrilled with their performance to “Cinderella.” I did not note any major errors, though, and loved their captivating, lyrical presentation. They have great lines, which are highlighted in this program.

“We got through it, which was all we really needed to do today,” McKernan said.

Gilles and McKernan said that they will prioritize increasing their levels before Nationals, particularly on footwork. As for goals once they are at Nationals, where they were fourth last year, they want to improve, both on their score from today, and on their placement from last year. “We want a medal,” McKernan said. His partner added, “I want to be higher than fourth!”

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani were third in the free dance and squeaked past Wingle and Devereaux for the bronze medal. Since this was only their second competition on the junior level, their score of 69.39 was yet another personal best. With their charming smiles on the last beat of the music, it was obvious that they were pleased with their strong and clean performance. Of all three dances, I thought that in this dance, their height difference was the least obvious. The classical music was an interesting choice for a team that looks so young, but their maturity showed and they interpreted it well.

Maia was just happy to be here. “It [the competition] was a really great learning experience, because this was one of our first bigger events this year as juniors, so that was really exciting to compete against all of these second-year juniors who are really amazing,” she said.

Alex said that their biggest goal of the season was making it to Nationals. Now that they are on their way, he’ll take whatever comes. “I don’t think, for us, it’s about the placement,” he said. “I think it’s a lot about skating well, really improving and growing as a team, and being able to mature that way.”

For Alex and Maia, their new training environment in Canton, MI, is making them work harder and helping them to achieve more this year. They could not say enough great things about the other teams there.

“It’s amazing to be on the same surface as them,” Maia said. “They’re really nice people, on and off the ice.”

“Each one of them has something special you can look up to,” Alex added. “Each one of them has a trait or something that you really admire.”

One of those teams that shares practice ice with Alex and Maia is Shannon Wingle and Ryan Devereaux, who finished fourth. Their free dance score of 67.31 was almost equal to what they scored last year at the National Championships, but nearly six points below the mark that they set last month in Bulgaria , where they won a Junior Grand Prix silver medal. Still, their smooth skating was enough to keep them on the podium, which includes a pewter medal for fourth place.

“I think we did rather well,” Wingle said while wearing her ticket to Nationals – a pewter medal. “I’m happy with what we did, and I’m excited to get back to the rink and work hard.”

Devereaux was very clear about their goals for Nationals: “To skate clean and solid programs.”

Wingle added, “I think we always want to grow, even performance-wise, not just technically. Connection is very important in ice dance.”

Rachel Dickinson and Kurt Lingenfelter finished fifth. Set to Latin music, both partners really performed well and expressed the flavor of the program. Unfortunately, she fell, and he stumbled during their footwork. Still, they kept up the energy level to the end, and it seemed like she was finally comfortable competing.

Kaitlin Miller and Jason Deveikis finished sixth.