The 2009 U.S. Championships got underway bright and early on Monday morning with the novice compulsory dance event at 7:40 a.m. Unlike the junior and senior levels, novice dancers skate two compulsory dances. Selected for Cleveland’s competition were the Paso Doble and the Blues. The Paso Doble was invented by Reginald B. Wilkie and Daphne B. Wallis and skated for the first time in 1938 at the Westminster Ice Rink in London, while the Blues was created by Robert Dench and Lesley Turner and first performed in 1934 at Streatham Ice Rink, London.

Two diverse dances play to different teams’ strengths. Eleven of the 12 teams had a different standing in the Blues from where they placed in the Paso. Base value came into play in that the Paso’s base technical score is 15.50, while the Blues is only 15.00.

The top two teams flip-flopped during the event, each winning one compulsory.

Lauri Bonacorsi & Travis Mager, who drew first to skate in the Paso Doble, were dramatic and convincing in their performance. They had one of the largest patterns of the event and posted a score of 22.93. Bonacorsi & Mager, who formed their partnership in late spring 2008, set the mark for the teams to follow, and it turned out that this mark held up throughout the competition — that is, until Ann Arbor’s Anastasia Olson & Jordan Cowan took the ice as the last skaters of this CD.

Olson & Cowan scored 23.95, just 1.03 higher than Bonacorsi & Mager, and captured the flavor of the Paso the best of all the teams. Their Paso was fierce, with sharp movements and power that matched the Spanish expression associated with this dance. The 2008 pewter medalists looked more composed than at last year’s Nationals and in command of the ice. Their Technical Elements Score came in at 17.61, more than two points over the Paso’s base value. They had some trouble in the Blues — at least according to judges 6-9 — all of whom gave out predominately base or negative GOEs.

In phase two — the Blues CD — Bonacorsi & Mager won the dance and took the lead overall with a sultry blues that showcased strong edges and expression. They captured the look and feel of the blues better than any of the other teams and received nine 0s, two +2s, and the rest +1 in the Grades of Execution. With a total score of 47.22, they have a slim .96 lead over Olson & Cowan heading into the free dance.

In third place are Gabrielle Friedenberg & Benjamin Nykiel, who presented powerful dances with good edges to finish third in the Paso and fourth in the Blues. Friedenberg, a former U.S. juvenile pairs champion, has only been ice dancing a short time, and she and Nykiel are also a new team this season. They have 44.14 points.

The next four teams are separated by less than a point. After finishing fourth in the Paso, Moriah Tabon & Matt Kleffman were able to maintain their fourth-place position despite finishing eighth in the Blues. The latter did not have the spark that their Paso performance had, and the GOEs for the three patterns dropped each time around the rink. Tabon & Kleffman are competing in their first season together.

Grace Lee Sells & Robert Cuthbertson took the opposite path from Tabon & Kleffman, rebounding from tenth place in the Paso to finish third in the Blues and pull up to fifth overall. They lost .72 on GOE in the Paso, but gained 1.35 in the Blues. They are less than .4 away from the podium.

Katharine Zeigler & Samuel Rashba, who have national experience at the intermediate level but are at their first “Big Nationals” this year, are in sixth after two solid performances. 2008 intermediate champions Joylyn Yang & Jean-Luc Baker are in seventh.

The 2008 novice bronze medalists, Una Donegan & Andrew Korda, found themselves in eighth place after the compulsories, due in part to several mistakes in the Paso Doble, mainly on the second half of the pattern, where they lost 1.15. In the Blues, they had the third lowest Timing score of the field. They are still within striking distance of a medal, though, less than two points from fourth.

The final four teams heading into the free dance are: Natalie Wojton & Michael Soyfer, ninth; Sameena Sheikh & Daniel Eaton, 10th; Mackenzie Reid & Adam Munday, 11th; and Julia Leix & Thomas Zebrasky, 12th.

The novice event concludes Tuesday with the free dance.


Coach Greg Maddalone knew he had found the right match for student Travis Mager just four hours into Mager’s tryout with Lauri Bonacorsi.

“I knew that was who he wanted to skate with — and who he should skate with,” Maddalone said.

Seven months after Bonacorsi relocated to Laurel, Md. to form a partnership with Mager, the duo will stand on the top step of the novice ice dancing podium at the U.S. Championships. Skating to “ “The Last Emperor” and “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bonacorsi & Mager were exquisite. The program had a light and easy feel about it as the team flowed from one element to another seamlessly. They finished with level 4s on all elements with the exception of their circular steps and their spin. They received three +2s, a plethora of +1s, and no negative GOEs.

Maddalone attributes the team’s success in such a short time to their work ethic.

“Both these kids worked as hard as they could,” Maddalone said. “They’re both full-time honor students and work three to four hours a day every afternoon after school. After Pacific Coast Sectionals, we decided to up their game and started driving to Pennsylvania on Saturdays and training six days per week.”

Anastasia Olson & Jordan Cowan, the 2008 pewter medalists, finished second in the free dance and overall. Olson & Cowan’s program to “Corazon Espinado” by Carlos Santana was going well until an unfortunate fall by Cowan on the twizzles interrupted the program. To the team’s credit, they rebounded quickly and went on to finish the performance strongly. The fall on the twizzle reduced the element to a level one and in addition received negative GOEs. On their way to the kiss and cry, Olson gave her partner a big hug.

“I was really proud,” Olson said. “Even though we had the one mistake, I was really satisfied with our program, so I wanted to give him a big hug.”

The team was somewhat philosophical about their result and looked forward to the future.

“We came to this competition not thinking about winning, but to show the judges and everyone else that we’re ready for junior,” Cowan said.

Another new partnership, Moriah Tabon and Matt Kleffman of the Broadmoor Skating Club, took the bronze with a feisty performance to a tango version of “Dark Eyes.” The team’s only negative GOEs were from their twizzles, which were rated level 3. Tabon & Kleffman, together only for eight months, were pleased with their performance.

“I was really happy that we were able to express ourselves and skate the way that we wanted to skate and have trained to skate,” Kleffman said. “We’re just really happy with the performance overall.”

“To be honest, at this level and with us being in our first year together, just being here and competing at Nationals and getting this experience is a big victory in itself,” Tabon added.

Less than one year ago, both had ended partnerships and were looking to continue their careers. Kleffman used and held tryouts with girls from all over the country before trying out with someone who was basically in his backyard — Tabon also trained at the Broadmoor. Within two days, the team had formed a partnership and was on the ice training.

Though Gabrielle Friedenberg and Benjamin Nykiel dropped to sixth in the free dance, the team takes home the pewter medal. Aside from -2 GOEs on their twizzles, they received base or 1s for their other elements. Of their six elements, most received level 2, except for their serpentine lift which received level 4.

Finishing fifth overall were Grace Lee Sells & Robert Cuthbertson who skated an empowered free dance to “Sadeness” by Enigma. Sells choreographed the program with her coach, Pierre Panayi.

Moving up from eighth after the compulsories, last year’s bronze medalists, Una Donegan & Andrew Korda, took fourth in the free dance and finished sixth overall.