by Melanie Hoyt

At the 2008 BMO Skate Canada Western Challenge, twelve pre-novice dance teams competed for eight spots at the 2008 BMO Skate Canada Junior Nationals. Only Alberta/NT/Nunavut and Western Ontario fielded full teams of four dance teams each.

Michaela Botsford & Scott Botsford, last year’s champions of this qualifying event, were the favorites and headed into the free dance with a lead of about a point. Their modern free dance to Roisin Murphy’s “Ramalama (Bang Bang)” was polished and dramatic, and it earned 40.37 points. Slight problems with unison on the twizzles were the only error, and they received all +1 GOE marks for their level three spin. The small community rink was standing room only for their great performance, with a lot of support from fellow Western Ontario skaters. After placing eighth at the 2007 BMO Financial Group Skate Canada Junior Nationals, they have increased the difficulty in their elements and are on the right track to place much higher this year.

Sarah Aghai & Peter Ahluwalia finished second overall, after scoring 37.81 points in the free dance. They rallied from fourth place after the compulsories to win the silver medal with a strong, well-choreographed tango free dance to music by Gotan Project. An error from Aghai on the twizzles downgraded that element to a level two from an intended level four and cost them a couple of points, but it was unlikely that they would have finished higher than second, even without the mistake. With two level four lifts and a level four spin, they had the most difficult dance in the competition. Aside from the mistake, they skated with confidence and maturity, using their footwork to accent the music and with nice highlights and transitions between the elements.

Elisabeth Dyer & Taylor Dilley scored 34.68 points to place third in the free dance, securing the bronze medal for them overall. They also struggled with the twizzles in their dance to music from “Man of La Mancha.” Their twizzles only earned a level one, and combined with negative GOE, this element was only worth 1.88 points for them. However, they had two strong level four lifts, including a well-executed rotational lift where he held onto her waist and she only used one arm to balance herself against his shoulder. Dyer & Dilley are competing at the pre-novice level for the first time, after winning 2007 Junior Nationals on the juvenile level.

Jazz Smyl Joly & Jessie Smyth finished fourth overall, but struggled in the free dance, earning 31.43 points and placing seventh in that portion. Like Dyer & Dilley, they are also in their first season on the pre-novice level. Their Middle Eastern-themed free dance had a lot of character, but mistakes on the circular step sequence and on the twizzles cost them the points they needed to stay on the podium, after being second heading into the free dance. The highlight of their dance was a solid straight-line lift where Smyth was in a low position and held onto Joly’s leg while she leaned backwards.

Pilar Maekawa & Leonardo Maekawa were yet another team that made the jump from juvenile to pre-novice this year. They were fifth on the juvenile level at the 2007 Junior Nationals. The 32.51 points they earned in the free dance was the sixth-best free dance score, but it was enough to keep them in fifth overall, which is where they were after the compulsory dance. Along with being another team to have problems on the twizzles, the Maekawas only earned a level one for their circular step sequence. However, their fun program to Latin music was exciting, and they carried their energy through to the last second.

After a rough eleventh-place rocker foxtrot, Jayden Rau & Tyler Grunt came back fighting to earn a trip to 2008 Junior Nationals. Their score of 33.38 was enough for fourth place in the free dance and sixth place overall. Although they were marked negatively for their level four twizzles, the problem was minor, and overall, their dance was characterized by confident skating and great expression. Their trip to 2008 Junior Nationals will be a repeat trip. They were sixth in 2007 on the juvenile level.

Tessa Hill & Garrett Gosselin, the lone entry in this event from Saskatchewan, finished seventh overall, after earning fifth place in the free dance with 32.67 points. They also earned high marks for their level four twizzles, but a level one circular step sequence hurt them. Four out of the seven judges gave them +1 GOE for their opening straight-line lift. This is Hill and Gosselin’s first year as a team. Gosselin went to Junior Nationals last year on the juvenile level and finished ninth.

The final team to qualify for the 2008 Junior Nationals was Jenna Zaleski & Andrew Deweyert, on the strength of their eighth-place free dance that scored 30.24 points. They climbed from ninth place after the compulsories to overtake their Western Ontario teammates, Carleigh MacDonald & Matthew Mills, for the final berth to Ottawa. Zaleski & Deweyert’s fun 1950’s-style program had a lot of energy and despite some shakiness on some of the elements, including the twizzles, the overall effort was plenty for eighth place.

Although they entered the free dance segment of the competition in sixth place, MacDonald & Mills fell to ninth overall after a tenth-place free dance. Their program opened with a troublesome spin that failed to earn even a level one and was therefore scored as a zero. Although they came back in their dynamic rock ’n’ roll program with well-skated elements, low difficulty levels kept them from rallying to finish in the top eight. The difference between eighth place and ninth was only 1.71 points.

Sarah Nelson & Claude La Rochelle remained in tenth place after the compulsories to finish tenth overall. They scored 27.43 points in the free dance, which earned them ninth place in that portion of the competition. Although they, too, battled with their twizzles, their free dance to music by Stevie Wonder was a hit with the small crowd and had a lot of spunk. Some of their senior teammates from Alberta were present to cheer them on.

Finishing eleventh was the team from Northern Ontario, Sarah Boyechko & Eric Wilkins. Their dance to “Ameno” by Era was an original choice, especially for a young team. Although they had some trouble with the elements and did not earn the levels that the teams ahead of them did, they did a nice job with the dramatic choreography and had a very mature look on the ice.

Kaylene Beatty & Kalim Shieck, a new team this year, finished twelfth in the free dance and twelfth overall with a program to music by Rufus Wainwright. After a very tentative start in the first compulsory dance, they appeared to gain confidence over the course of the competition. Their free dance was charming and delicate. Their best element was their final level four straight-line lift, which was in the low position that has become almost a standard this season.

The 2008 Junior Nationals will be held in Ottawa, ON, from January 30 – February 2, 2008.