Senior & Junior by Laura Flagg | Novice by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman
While the size of the senior ice dance field at U.S. Nationals has been decreasing, going from seventeen a few seasons ago to just eleven this year, the depth and talent level are still growing. These teams will try to prove that they are the best ice dancers in the United States.
The same three teams have placed top three at the previous two U.S. Nationals: Madison Chock & Evan Bates, Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, and Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani. As all three qualified for the Grand Prix Final, they are very likely to be the top three finishers.
The Shibutanis, who train with Marina Zoueva, are the favorites to win, given their recent successes as reigning National champions, World silver medalists, and Grand Prix Final bronze medalists. However, their free dance does not have the emotional impact that last year’s had. Chock & Bates, who have medaled at Worlds the past two seasons, have a free dance to “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, which will stand out in a field that contains more lyrical free dances but the program has not completely gelled for them as of yet. Chock & Bates train with Igor Shpilband. Hubbell & Donohue, who train in Montreal with the top ice dance teams in the world, might have the best free dance of the three, but they also have not received the highest mark for their short dance.
However, if any of these teams falter even slightly, they will have to worry about the young team of Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker. While Hawayek & Baker struggled last season after winning the pewter medal in their first year as seniors at Nationals, they have rebounded with a medal at two challenger events and new personal bests. Coached by Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova, their free dance to Liebesträum by Franz Liszt is one of the standout programs of the season.
Two other American teams, Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit and Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus competed on the Grand Prix circuit and will likely duke it out for the last spot in the top five.
At Nationals last year, Cannuscio & McManus delivered captivating performances that earned them pewter medals. Unfortunately, the momentum has not translated to higher placements at their Challenger Series or Grand Prix events this season. They train with Karen Ludington and Christie Moxley in Newark, DE.
Pogrebinsky & Benoit, the 2016 U.S. junior bronze medalists, have made the transition to seniors with ease. The team won their first senior international (Lake Placid Ice Dance International) followed by solid performances at each of their events and capped by a bronze medal at Tallinn Trophy. They are also coached by Shpilband.
Karina Manta & Joseph Johnson, who are coached by Patti Gottwein, made a splash at senior finishing seventh when they were 10th in junior the year before. Manta & Johnson have one of the best free dances of the season to “Dream On” by Aerosmith.
Like Pogrebinsky & Benoit, Julia Biechler & Damian Dodge have also made a solid transition to the senior level. After finishing fifth as juniors last season, they placed fifth in their senior international debut at the Lake Placid Ice Dance International and fourth at Lombardia Trophy, their Challenger Series event. While they have had a good senior debut, placing fourth at their Challenger event, their programs have not yet matched their performance level of last season’s programs. They train in Pennsylvania with Yovanny Durango and Natalia Linichuk.
Charlotte Maxwell & Ryan Devereaux, eighth place finishers at last year’s Nationals, made their international debut this season, placing 6th at their Challenger event. Kseniya Ponomaryova & Oleg Altukhov and Elicia Reynolds & Stephen Reynolds, who placed 11th and 13th at the 2016 U.S. Championships, round out the deep field.
As it has been in recent years, the short dance will be on Friday afternoon. The first two groups will compete the free dance on Saturday morning; the final group competes later in the afternoon.
One of the very best junior ice dancing competitions in the world will take place at U. S. Nationals next week. Thirteen teams will be competing for medals and a spot at the World Junior Championships in just two months.
The battle for gold will likely be between Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter and Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons. Until recently, McNamara & Carpenter have had the advantage, winning gold at both U.S. Nationals and the Junior World Championships last season to the silvers won by Parsons & Parsons. However, at the Junior Grand Prix Final (JGPF) this past December, it was the Parsons who were victorious, beating McNamara & Carpenter for the first time. While McNamara & Carpenter are more than capable of claiming their third consecutive junior national title, Parsons and Parsons have been stronger all season and have earned the right to be considered the favorites for this competition. Both teams are coached by Alexei Kiliakov, Dmytri Ilin, and Elena Novak in Maryland in Wheaton, Maryland.
Just missing out on the podium at the JGPF were Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko, who are solid bets for third here and are the presumptive heirs to continue the U.S.’s reign in juniors as the top two will no longer be age-eligible after this season. They have had a strong season, placing second at both of their JGP events, but merely strong is not good enough to win in this field. They train in Novi, Michigan with Igor Shpilband.
The Eastern Sectional Championships were possibly a good preview of places fourth through sevent. Caroline Green and Gordon Green took gold there, after winning everything they possibly could as novices the past two seasons. As they are too young to compete as juniors internationally — Caroline turned 13 only this past October — U.S. Nationals is the biggest competition for them. They are training mates of Parsons & Parsons and McNamara & Carpenter and won NRW Trophy (novice) in November.
Also training with them are Emma Gunter & Caleb Wein and Eliana Gropman & Ian Somerville. They placed second and third respectively at Easterns, reversing the results of the NRW Trophy, where they placed seventh and fifth. Gunter & Wein were the 2016 U.S. novice silver medalists, while Gropman & Somerville had a very strong performance where they finished seventh at junior.
The biggest unknown is the performance and resulting placement of Chloe Lewis & Logan Bye who placed fourth at Easterns. They are excellent when they are on, but inconsistency has plagued them constantly, both in their JGP events, where they placed third and fifth this season, and at Sectionals, where a great performance in the short dance quickly turned into one that was mistake-ridden. If they skate well, they are absolutely capable of winning a medal. They too train with Shpilband.
An interesting note: all of the teams who train in Wheaton will be using hip-hop for their short dance; both of the teams that train in Novi will be using swing.
The rest of the field include the top qualifiers from Midwestern Sectionals, Diana Avaz & Val Katsman and Lydia Erdman & Alexey Shchepetov, and the top teams from Pacifics, Alina Efimova & Alexander Petrov and Elizabeth Addas & Michael Valdez.
The short dance takes place on Wednesday evening; the free dance takes place Friday morning.
Twelve novice ice dance couples placed in the top four at one of the three sectional competitions and qualified to compete for gold, silver, bronze, and pewter medals at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City/Independence, Missouri.
The teams will skate two pattern dances – Viennese Waltz and the Blues and a free skate with the following required elements: one (1) combination lift or two (2) short lifts; spin or combination spin; set of synchronized twizzles; midline not touch step sequence; and, and a circular, diagonal, or serpentine step sequence in hold.
The 2016 novice gold and silver medalists left a void when they moved up to juniors at the end of last season. However, five novice teams have returned, including the 2016 bronze medalists Sophia Elder & Christopher Elder, Cherri Chen & YuanShi Jin (12th), Leah Krauskopf & Caleb Niva (9th), Claire Purnell & Luke Purnell (11th), and Allie Rose & Spencer Emerson (8th).
Elder & Elder began the season with a gold medal performance at the Chesapeake Open. In September, they won the US Novice & Junior Challenge Skate in SLC. It is their sixth trip to US Nationals – having claimed the Intermediate title in 2015. Their competitive experience could be just enough to push them to the top of the podium. Kelley Adair and Donny Adair, the 1986 ice dance champion with Renee Roca, coach the siblings. The Adairs have two additional teams from Louisville Skating Academy on the novice roster – the Purnell siblings and Isabel Blahunka & Will Shawver, who finished fifth at intermediate in 2016.
Newcomers Haines & Koszuta won the Eastern Sectional with the highest score of 115.08. The team just formed their partnership in July 2016, but outscored their closest sectional competitors by thirteen points. They should be the favorites, but their first appearance at Nationals could be a bit overwhelming for the New Yorkers. Former Hungarian ice dance champion Bianka Szijgyarto coaches the team, and Marc-Andre Servant, 2012 Canadian National Champion choreographed their free dance.
DelCamp & Gart is another new team, although Gart is a three-time US Championship medalist. In July, they were fifth at their competitive debut at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, followed by a silver medal at the U.S. Novice & Junior Challenge Skate in September. U.S. national medalist, Matthew Gates, and Svetlana Kulikova, Russian medalist, coach the team.
Tkachenko & Kiliakov made their novice debut in June with a fifth place finish at the Chesapeake Open. In July, they placed second at the 2016 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. The Wheaton Academy team is aiming for a third straight US Championship title. Kiliakov’s parents, Elena Novak and Alexei Kiliakov coach the team.
The 2015 juvenile and 2016 intermediate gold medalists Elizabeth Tkachenko & Alexei Kiliakov have joined the novice ranks and made their novice debut in June with a fifth place finish at the Chesapeake Open. In July, they placed second at the 2016 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. They are joined by training mates Molly Cesanek & Nikoli Usanov, who each competed at the 2016 U.S. Championships with different partners. Kiliakov’s parents, Elena Novak and Alexei Kiliakov coach both teams.
Chen & Jin were seventh at the Chesapeake Open and fourth at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships before finishing second at the 2016 Pacific Coast Sectionals. They teamed up in 2015 and will make their second trip to the US Championships. The couple trains in Reston, Virginia with Vasily Serkov and Nataliya Tymoshenko.
Allie Rose & Spencer Emerson placed second at the Chesapeake Open, but won the free dance at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. The couple teamed up in 2014 and will be attending its third U.S. Championships. They train in Ardmore, Pennsylvania with Michelle Marvin, Chuen-Gun Lee and Robbie Kaine. Their training mates, Isabella Amoia & Cory Fraiman won the bronze at the 2016 U.S. Championships (intermediate), and have joined them at the novice level.
The new team of Susan Talbot & Ryan O’Donnell round out the novice roster.
The Novice Pattern Dance Competition will be held on Tuesday, January 17, with the free dance on the morning of Wednesday, January 18. Both events will be held at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Missouri.