by Anne Calder | Off-Ice Photo by Jordan Cowan
Raffaella Koncius & Alexey Shchepetov grew up in two separate times zones, 2700 miles apart.
Koncius was raised in Southern California where she was schooled online. She loves the beach and anything fashion/makeup related. She’s a huge dog lover and is almost done with her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Penn State.
At age four, she attended a figure skating birthday party and loved it so much she didn’t want to leave the ice.
“I began ice dance as I ended my singles career,” Koncius noted. “I was interested in ice dance, as I had always loved the performance aspect of the sport and less so the jumping. I loved the attention to detail and the way two people could create a story and share/emote such feelings on the ice. The only dislikes are twizzles, as I am a lefty, and I always have to do righty twizzles.
Shchepetov is an east coaster from the Philadelphia suburbs who loves biking, hiking and exploring new parts of cities and small towns. He also wears hockey boots riveted to his ice dance blades.
His earliest skating memories are from the Penn University Skating Club where his mom used to skate with him. He and his grandmother would also take the train into the city, and she would watch him from the bleachers.
“My reason for beginning ice dancing funny enough was because I was terrible at singles,” he confessed. “I remember telling my coach at the time that I wanted to quit, and he suggested ice dancing alternatively. I tried it and never thought twice about it. I fell in love. What I like most about the discipline is the enjoyment of performing with someone else with whom you can share the magical experience of skating.”
Shchepetov and first partner competed Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice and Junior dance between 2010-2014.The team also represented GBR at two 2014 Junior Grand Prix events. He competed at the 2017 U.S. National Championships with his second partner.
Koncius had competed internationally for Denmark in 2019-2020, and had a problem finding a partner due to the global virus restrictions and having to switch federations. In early 2021, she contacted her former coach Marina Zoueva in Florida and asked if there was anyone available for her to skate with.
Meanwhile Shchepetov wasn’t sure about his competitive career after having had knee surgery leading into the pandemic.
In April 2021, Koncius & Shchepetov were invited to Florida from California and Philadelphia for a tryout. Neither knew the names of the prospective partners.
“After the very first lesson, we felt the connection we shared, and how natural it was to skate together,” Koncius asserted.
“We immediately clicked, and I knew right away that Rafaella was the one,” Shchepetov added.
They skated together for two days then mutually agreed to the partnership. Three months later the new team began training in Estero, Florida with Zoueva and her International Academy team.
Last spring the duo moved to Canton, Michigan to work with Tanith White, Charlie White and Greg Zuerlein at the Michigan Ice Dance Academy (MIDA).
“We couldn’t be happier at MIDA. We made the move there in early May, and it has been wonderful having three coaches who have such an incredible eye for detail and know how to push and work us hard,” Koncius explained. “The environment is amazing; everyone is so nice, we all get along, we hangout outside the rink. It is nice having a huge support group, and we all help each other through our double free dance days.”
“We usually skate from 8-2 with breaks here and there. Then on Tuesdays/Thursdays we have ballet, Monday/Wednesday is workout, and Fridays are pilates. We have all three coaches every day for about an hour, and then we also skate by ourselves”.
Shchepetov continued, “As with any move, there are plenty of adjustments. I think we have managed them all pretty well and have matured from this move. We definitely saw this switch as a necessary one for our growth.
The duo loves their choreography for both of this season’s competitive programs because they feel it fits them well.
“Our Rhythm Dance music [“Sweet Dreams” / “Here Comes the Rain Again” by Eurythmics], is very powerful,” Koncius said. “It is easy for me to channel emotions through “Sweet Dreams”, (as you can see by me singing along to the music. I can’t help myself.) Plus it is such an iconic and catchy 80’s song.”
The partners shared their thoughts about the 1980’s music theme for 2023-2024.
“What I like about this season is how fun people’s choice of music is, but I wish there was more diversity in the style of songs as well as more variety in costume designs,” Shchepetov pointed out.
Koncius agreed. “There are so many good songs from this era, but many people skate to the same ones with the same themes. It is hard to differentiate skaters and their dances (especially with all the pantsuits/bodysuits).”
“Our Free Dance music is “On Reflection” and “Song for the Little Sparrow” (Overture) and exhibits our connection with each other. We wanted to show the grace, beauty and chemistry we have,” Koncius said.
Last January, the duo was one of three teams that represented USA ice dance at the 2023 Winter Universiade in Lake Placid, New York.They each have fond memories of the competition and festivities.
“By far my best memory was walking in the opening ceremony,” recalled Koncius. “The crowd was wild, especially when they announced USA. It felt like the Olympics. It was so amazing meeting athletes from around the world.”
“My favorite skating memory from my career has to be being able to skate at the University Games and to share that experience with Raffaella,” Shchepetov added.
Later in the month, the team traveled to San Jose for the U.S. National Championships. After a disappointing 2022 when a positive Covid test forced them to withdraw, they were anxious to compete. Unfortunately an injury sustained in practice forced another withdrawal.
Again in 2024, the team has its eyes focused on debuting at a U.S. National Figure Skating Championships when the event is held in Columbus, Ohio from January 21-28.
“Both unfortunate national withdrawals have motivated us to come back stronger. I had to spend three months off the ice for my concussion, which really made me want to train harder and more than ever,” Koncius explained.
“I am looking forward to skating like we have been training. We have been working so hard, and I just want to show our improvement. The first two competitions of the year were difficult, so I am looking forward to having a good competition!“
Shchepetov’s personal goal is to showcase Raffaella and show people their progress as a team. “I am also looking forward to having two clean and solid skates to close out the season.