Midwestern Sectional Championships – November 14-17, 2007 – Rochester, MI
Written by Melanie Hoyt

After trips to North Dakota, Colorado, and Alabama, the 2008 Midwestern Sectional Championships return to the actual “Midwest” this week. The Onyx-Suburban Skating Academy will host the event at its impressive facility in Rochester, MI, just north of Detroit.

In the senior dance event, only four teams will compete, which means that all four teams will advance to the U.S. National Championships. The clear favorites are Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev, sixth at 2007 Nationals. Although they have been together for four and a half years, residency requirements and injuries have held them back from many competitions. They recently competed at their first international competition as a team, the Nebelhorn Trophy, where they placed first.

The three remaining teams are all attempting to qualify for Nationals for the first time together.  Mauri Gustafson and Joel Dear joined forces this summer. Before this year’s Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships in August, neither Mauri nor Joel had competed since 2006 Nationals, where Mauri placed tenth on the junior level and Joel placed tenth in seniors.

Stacy Kim is now skating with Jonathan Harris. Stacy was sixth at this event two years ago, but did not have a partner last year. Jonathan Harris, who skated with Jennifer Wester until 2003, also did not compete last season.

Making a return to competitive skating is Alexis Williamson. It has been six years since Williamson finished sixth at this event on the junior level. Her new partner is Vitali Novikov, a Russian dancer with international experience. He is returning to competition after his split with Olga Orlova following their fifth place finish at 2006 Russian Nationals.

On the junior level, six teams will compete for four spots at Nationals, and the competition promises to be exciting. Picking a favorite proves to be an impossible task, and the podium spots will certainly come down to the last free dance.

The sibling team of Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell are last year’s Junior Grand Prix Final champions, but an injury to Keiffer’s Iliopsoas muscle has kept them from competing this season. The injury was sustained while practicing a lift just two weeks before their scheduled season opener in Lake Placid. Recovery has meant a lot of rest, and although their programs were already done before the injury, they have only returned to a reduced training schedule during the past month. Since the U.S. Figure Skating no longer grants injury byes, it is imperative that they place in the top four at this event if they want to skate at Nationals in January.

Piper Gilles and Timothy McKernan, last year’s silver medalists at this event, have just completed a strong showing on the Junior Grand Prix, placing fifth in Austria and fourth in Great Britain. Their silky-smooth New Orleans Blues original dance had a lot of people talking at the Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships, and some argued whether blues qualified as a type of folk, and the duo debuted a new Irish folk original dance at the Junior Grand Prix in Sheffield, England.

Shannon Wingle and Ryan Devereaux also competed twice on the Junior Grand Prix, placing fifth in Estonia, and winning the silver medal with a much stronger performance in Bulgaria. They have previously competed at the Pacific Coast Sectionals, but they train in Canton, less than an hour’s drive from the Onyx Skating Academy.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, siblings who train in Canton, should be in the race for the medals. Although this is their first year on the junior level, they gave strong performances in Lake Placid in August that proved that they are ready to take the next step. They defeated Gilles and McKernan in the original dance, the only event where they competed head-to-head, at the Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships. Maia’s age prevented them from competing on the Junior Grand Prix, though, so it is difficult to predict how they will compare to the teams who have had that experience.

Rachel Dickinson and Kurt Lingenfelter are a new team this year, and this is Rachel’s first appearance at sectionals. Kurt finished fifth in this event last year. Kaitlin Miller and Jason Deveikis are moving up to juniors after finishing tenth on the novice level at this event last year.

On the novice level, last year’s silver medalists are returning to stake a claim on the title. Megan Evans and Nathan Truesdell, who train locally in Canton, went on to finish sixth at this level at Nationals last year. After strong performances in Lake Placid in August, they appear to be among the front-runners at this year’s Mids.

Although it is their first season together, Anastasia Olson and Jordan Cowan have already made an impression, winning their free dance group at Lake Placid – over Evans and Truesdell. Anastasia and Jordan both competed at Nationals last year with different partners. Anastasia finished eleventh, and Jordan finished tenth.

Lauren McKernan and Matt Kleffman also had a strong finish in Lake Placid, placing fourth in their free dance group. Both of them competed at this event last year with different partners, but neither qualified for Nationals. Lauren finished fifth, just missing the cut, and Matt finished seventh.

Grace Sells and Robert Cuthbertson are returning to novice Mids after placing sixth last year. They already kicked off their season with a trip to Lake Placid, where they finish fifth in their free dance group.

In the same group, Kate McDermott and Colin McManus finished eighth.   Kate and Colin won the silver medal at the 2006 U.S. Junior Championships at the intermediate level. 

Other teams competing include Anna-Sophie Dawson & Kevin Allison, Katie Donaldson & Brock Jacobs, Stephanie Zastrow & Michael Lueck, and Abigail Leet & Pine Kopka-Ross.

Molly Raymond and Nathan Raymond were scheduled to compete in Rochester, but have been forced to withdraw due to Nathan’s back injury. 

Qualification to Nationals on the intermediate and juvenile levels has changed this year. For dance, qualification begins at the sectional championships, not at the regional championships. However, the teams will still compete as if it is a regional championship, which means that awards given out are based on regions, not sections. As a result, there may be more than one gold medalist team at each section, if entries come from multiple regions. Furthermore, teams are given the option to compete at this event or to advance directly to the National Championships. All entries that finish the competition at this event will advance to Nationals.

There are only three teams competing on the intermediate level. After winning a bronze medal on the juvenile level at Nationals last year, Laura Perry and Joshua Leggett are returning this year to take on the intermediate level. Elizabeth Ritenour and Derek Ontko and Alison Boike and Adam Boike will also compete.

Returning the juvenile level this year are Olivia Oltmanns & Tyler Broderick. They finished sixteenth at Nationals last year. Challenging them at this event will be Mallory Detota & Thomas Ontko, Peircyn Hunt & Davis Nixon, Sage Kelner& Malcolm Kelner, and Jessica Manahan & Alex Schachtel.