On January 17, the 2011 BMO Skate Canada Junior Nationals will kick off at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, B.C. As usual, the novice dancers have the task of starting the competition, bright and early, with their pattern (compulsory) dances. While the competition seems like a rematch of last month’s BMO Skate Canada Challenges — the qualifier for Junior Nationals — it does have one kink. Instead of skating the Blues for one of the pattern dances, the Paso Doble has been substituted. The other pattern dance, the Westminster Waltz, will make a repeat appearance. For many of the teams, this will be the first competitive appearance of the Paso Doble this season.
Madeline Edwards & Zhao Kai Pang storm into the competition as the favourites. They have only been beaten once this season — in the free dance at BC/YT Summer Skate back in August. Since then, they have won the BC/YT Sectional Championships and Challenge last month. The duo has been just about unstoppable since teaming up three years ago, winning national titles at the juvenile level in 2009 and the pre-novice level in 2010. As charming and expressive as they are technically solid, Edwards & Pang have established themselves as the team to beat.
As usual, some of their stiffest competition will come from their trainingmates. Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum took second at Challenge, but only by .26, and they won the free dance. It was the Blues that held Bruser & Lum back from their first victory over Edwards & Pang at a national-level competition, but the Blues is not on the schedule for Junior Nationals. Since they push each other all year long while they train together, the two teams are so close and have many of the same strengths. The competition could certainly go either way, and whichever way it ends up, the event is sure to be exciting until the last score is read.
Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen of Eastern Ontario managed to break up a potential BC sweep at Challenge when they won the bronze medal last month, and they’ll certainly be aiming to stay on the podium this week. Bent & MacKeen won one of the pattern dances at Challenge, and those dances are definitely a strength for them. Last year, Bent & MacKeen just barely missed out on a trip to Junior Nationals, when they finished a very close 16th at Challenge. But this year, they fought back and easily earned their trip to Victoria as one of the top contenders.
The third team gunning for an unprecedented BC dance sweep at a national competition is Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus (pictured, above), who nearly completed the sweep at Challenge when they finished third in the free dance, but ended up fourth overall. With time to tweak their dances since Challenge, they would love to stand on the podium this time around. Dalmer & Firus train at the BC Centre of Excellence under Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe, along with Edwards & Pang and Bruser & Lum.
The fifth-place finishers at Challenge were Katie Desveaux & Dmitre Razgulajevs (pictured, left), trainingmates of Bent & MacKeen at the Scarboro FSC under Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs, Dmitre’s father. Desveaux & Razgulajevs are not always quite as strong as the other contenders, in terms of technical precision, but they are another delightful team to watch and always skate well.
Pilar Maekawa & Leonardo Maekawa were another team that experienced disappointment last season when they came close to qualifying for Junior Nationals, but missed out on the trip because of an extremely talented and large field. They have worked hard this year and have made a ton of improvements. Innovative choreography and strong performance skills have always been among their strengths, but this year, they are showing increased flow and speed as well. With a sixth-place finish at Challenge, they easily qualified for Junior Nationals and this season, Nationals is coming to them: the Maekawas are the only dancers (at any level) that get to compete this year in their hometown.
Rebecca Nelles & Nicholas Lettner have the shortest partnership on the novice level, but they have made big strides. At Challenge, they finished seventh, just .08 behind the Maekawas. They always perform with a ton of energy and are sure to add to a very entertaining field at the novice level. Nelles & Lettner train alongside Bent & MacKeen and Desveaux & Razgulajevs in Scarborough, Ont.
Competition begins Monday morning with the pattern dances and concludes with the free dance on Tuesday morning. The novice dancers will be the first champions crowned in Victoria this week.