2008 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS – SAINT PAUL, MN
Novice Event Preview by Daphne Backman
The novice compulsory dance events will open the 2008 U.S. National Championships, starting on Sunday, January 20. Competitors will skate both the Tango and Kilian. The event concludes on Monday, January 21 with the free dance. Novices do not skate an original dance.
Of the 24 novice ice dance competitors, only seven have previously competed at the U.S. Championships. The roster is a potpourri of new partnerships, former U.S. Junior National medalists, and seasoned novice athletes. Only Megan Evans & Nathan Truesdell and Chloe Wolf & Rhys Ainsworth return from the 2007 Championships.
Evans & Truesdell finished sixth in 2007 and were named to the 2007-2008 U.S. Figure Skating Developmental Team. They have been skating together for two seasons and train in Canton, Michigan with coaches Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva.
Maine teenagers Chloe Wolf & Rhys Ainsworth hope to improve on their seventh place finish at the 2007 Championships. Wolf and Ainsworth set the highest sectionals score, posting 110.39 at Eastern Sectional Championships in November. They are currently fourth on the list of longest current partnerships in the U.S. as 2007-2008 marks their seventh season together.
Three of the medalists from the 2007 U.S. Junior Championships will compete in St. Paul including 2007 intermediate champions, Una Donegan & Andrew Korda, and intermediate silver medalists, Kate McDermott & Colin McManus. Both teams train in Boston, Massachusetts and just one week ago were celebrating the wedding of their coaches, Hilary Gibbons and Justin Pekarek. Donegan and Korda finished third at Eastern Sectionals while their training mates were third at Midwestern Sectionals. 2008 Pacific Coast Sectional Champions, Lauren Ely & Travis Mager, won the pewter medal at the 2007 Junior National Championships. Ely & Mager posted the second highest Sectional score of 106.25.
2007 intermediate bronze medalist, Benjamin Nykiel, also qualified to compete at Nationals with new partner, Liza Branella. Nykiel is Branella’s first partner.
Though not a new partnership, Grace Lee Sells & Robert Cuthbertson are one of the new-to-Nationals teams. Sells & Cuthbertson finished sixth at the 2007 Midwestern Sectional Championships, a few spots shy of a trip to Nationals. This is the second year of their partnership and they train in Texas with coach, Pierre Panayi. Senior dance competitor Nick Traxler is one of their choreographers.
In additional to Branella & Nykiel, five new partnerships will round out the competitive field.
After a one-year absence, Katie Wyble returns to Nationals with new partner Justin Morrow. Wyble & Morrow had a strong debut at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, winning the compulsory dance final. Their second place finish at Eastern Sectionals was achieved with a free dance just a few weeks old.
Elyse Matsumoto & Patrick Mays and Anastasia Olson & Jordan Cowan each competed at the 2007 event, but with different partners. Mays suffered from a bout of mononucleosis in the late summer and fall that hampered their training time, but the team rebounded to finish second at Pacific Coast Sectionals. Olson & Cowan won Midwestern Sectionals. Both teams train in Ann Arbor, Michigan under the tutelage of Yasa Netchaeva and Iouri Tchesnitchenko.
Elizabeth Lewis & Baxter Burbank are members of “Team Philly,” training with Robbie Kaine and his team in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In the case of Hayley SooHoo & Brett Ryan, the partnership is not only new, but Ryan is new to ice dancing. SooHoo & Ryan surprised not only ice dance fans, but also themselves when they snagged the final spot and a ticket to Nationals based on their performances in San Diego.