by Anne Calder | On Ice Photos by Daphne Backman | Off Ice Photos by Jordan Cowan
In July, IDC caught up with Junior ice dancers Kristina Bland & Matthew Sperry in Lake Placid following their fifth place finish at the 2022 Ice Dance International.
Bland was born in Southfield, Michigan on September 29, 2004. She and previous partner Gabriel Francis competed as Juveniles and Intermediates representing the Detroit Skating Club.
Sperry was born in Falls Church, Virginia on September 1, 2002. He traIned with the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (WISA) first in Rockville and Wheaton, Maryland and more recently in Leesburg, Virginia. Sperry and partner Zoe Sensenbrenner debuted as juveniles at the 2017 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships.
Both partnerships shared the Juvenile podium with Jenna Hauer & Benjamin Starr at the 2018 U.S. Nationals. At the championships the next year in Detroit, they faced off as intermediates.
Sperry and partner then moved up to Novice while Bland & Francis went on to win the intermediate gold medal at the inaugural 2019-2020 Ice Dance Final in Hyannis, Massachusetts.
In 2020, COVID rearranged everyone’s schedules. Competitions were canceled and ice rinks were locked down. The two teams also parted ways. Like most of the skaters, Sperry worked on off-ice training. Bland became a gold medalist in ‘moves in the field’ and dance tests.
“In March 2021, I went to Michigan for a tryout with Kristina,” Sperry said. “We hit it off right away. We knew each other from before and also competed against each other.”
After skating together for only eight months, the team qualified for the 2022 US National Championships in Nashville, Tennessee. They ended the season with an eighth place finish.
The couple shared its thoughts about their 2022-2023 competitive programs and Argentine Tango pattern.
“When I started the season, I didn’t like the Argentine Tango at all,” Bland said. “It was my least favorite of the compulsories. As the season has gone on, I’m kind of liking it more, especially the first half. It’s growing on me more than I thought it would.”
ISU rules allow the two pattern sections to be danced separately or together and in any order. Bland & Sperry chose to split them as the first and last elements in their program with the Twizzles, Midline Step Sequence and Curve Lift in between.
“I’ve always liked the technicality of the key points in all the pattern dances,” Sperry said. “I love getting into the specifics of each key point because that’s something I enjoy working on.”
Both had previously tested the pattern, but neither had competed it until the Chesapeake Open in June.
The Rhythm Dance music is from Cirque du Soleil: Querer (from “Alegria”) by Rene Dupere and Que Viyera (from “Totem).
Sperry noted that Oleg Ouchakov, who works with them on the ice with their lifts, is a former Cirque du Soliel entertainer and actually had used one of their Rhythm Dance pieces in a performance.
“The Free Dance is from several albums. It’s Middle Eastern, Egyptian music,” Bland said.
The specific songs are “Wishful Thinking” by Raul Ferrando feat. Ararat Petrossian, “Unveiled” by Raul Ferrando and “The Feeling Begins” by Peter Gabriel.
The team’s second competition was the Dallas Open in early July.
“It was not our best program, but we made it through,” Sperry said. “We just had two weeks after Chesapeake to get ourselves together.”
“During the time between Dallas and Lake Placid, we worked mainly on our power and stroking performances,” explained Bland. “We tried to elevate expressing and connecting to the music.“Also a lot more consistencies – a lot more run-throughs – to keep working on the stamina,” Sperry added.
“We’ve trained at the Novi Ice Arena in Michigan from the beginning,” said Bland. “We work with multiple coaches: Natalia Deller, Igor Shpilband, Adrian Lenda and Oleg Ouchakov.
“Earlier this season, we also worked with Randi Strong,” Bland said. “That was a lot of fun.”
“Our goal for the season is to skate internationally – to get a Junior Grand Prix assignment and to skate consistently and grow in our sport,” Bland said.
The duo also has personal goals.
“I just graduated from high school,” Bland said. “I’m heading to the University of Michigan in the fall to major in Political Science and minor in Crime and Justice. Then it will be law school to become a Defense Attorney. That’s the dream.”
“I just finished my first year at the University of Michigan in Mechanical Engineering,” Sperry added. “A lot of us at Novi are focusing on both school and skating. We all know what it’s like, and we support each other.”
“Both my parents work in education, so they are very education focused,” Bland said. “I have an older brother who is in his second year of college. We’re 18 months apart.”
“Actually both our families are really into education,” Sperry added. “I have an older brother too. He’s a student at the University of Maryland.”
In mid-August, the team competed at the Onyx Challenge in Rochester Hills, Michigan. In their fourth outing in two months and in front of a supportive Wolverine audience, the twosome won the silver medal with a season high 136.73 total points.
On August 23, the USFS officially announced Kristina Bland & Matthew Sperry’s assignment to their first JGP assignment in Yerevan, Armenia September 21-24. Unfortunately, the event has been canceled.
September 21, 2022: Though initially temporarily postponed, the ISU Council formally canceled the Armenian Cup JGP event due to the ongoing situation at the Armenian/Azerbaijan border and protesting in Yerevan. The Council decided to re-allocate the competitors’ entries of the cancelled Armenian ISU Junior Grand Prix to the next upcoming three Junior Grand Prix events, namely in Gdansk, Poland on September 28 – October 1, again in Gdansk, Poland on October 5-8 and finally in Egna-Neumarkt, Italy on October 12-15, 2022. Bland & Sperry were re-assigned to the JGP event in Gdansk from September 28-October 1.
The partners previously shared their thoughts on the scheduled Junior Grand Prix international debut in Armenia.
“I am most looking forward to this exciting new step in my skating career representing team USA,” Bland said. “Having never left the US, other than Canada, the opportunity to travel to Armenia and compete is amazing. I can’t wait to explore Yerevan and immerse myself in a culture that’s very different than my own.”
“I am most looking forward to the experience of skating in an international environment and representing Team USA,” Sperry added. “Having never left the U.S., the opportunity to travel to Armenia and compete for the US is amazing. I also can’t wait to explore Yerevan and try the local foods after we finish skating.”
All Junior Grand Prix events are streamed on the ISU Youtube Channel.