Parsons-Hoyt-2015-0731-3984by Laura Flagg | Photos by Melanie Hoyt

The Junior Grand Prix Series kicks off this week in Bratislava, Slovakia. Over seven weeks, the JGP Series will move around the globe, offering competitive international opportunities for junior-level skaters. At the first event, 15 ice dance teams representing 11 different countries will take the ice.

JGP Series veterans Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons (pictured, right) are expected to contend for the podium, as this will be the fifth straight season on the circuit. Last season, they had strong results at both the U.S. Championships and the World Junior Championships, placing second and fourth in those events, respectively. Coached by Alexei Kiliakov, Dmitri Ilin, and Elena Novak in Rockville, Md., the American siblings will be skating to music from Medialuna Tango Project in the free dance. Coming off of their first international victory at the Lake Placid Ice Dance International, the Parsonses will be looking to earn their first gold medal at a JGP event.

Julia Biechler & Damian Dodge, who train with Yovanny Durango and Natalia Linichuk in Aston, Penn., are representing Team USA on the circuit for the second straight season. They had two strong finishes—fifth and sixth—in their JGP events last year, but mistakes in their short dance in the junior event at U.S. Nationals prevented them from finishing higher than eighth there. They will be performing their new free dance to “Nocturne” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Lucia Micarelli.

Standing between the Parsons siblings and the gold medal are Russia’s Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd. They had a great fall last year, winning a gold and a silver at their two JGP events—placing ahead of the Parsons at the second—and went on to win the silver at the JGP Final. However, a fourth-place finish at the Russian Junior Championships cost them a spot on the World Junior Championship team. They train with Ksenia Rumiantseva and Ekaterina Volobueva and will be skating two new programs, including a short dance with a waltz to music by Frédéric Chopin.

Taillefer-Hoyt-2015-0730-3638Also representing Russia are Sofia Shevchenkova & Igor Eremenko, who will be making their international debut. They are coached by Irina Zhuk and Alexander Svinin; their free dance is to music from “The Pink Panther.”

Audrey Croteau-Villeneuve & Jeff Hough will be competing for Canada in Slovakia. They made their JGP debut last season, with sixth- and seventh-place finishes. Unfortunately, an injury sustained at their second JGP event forced them to withdraw from the rest of their season last year. They are coached by Darryl van Luven and Jamie Britton in Ottawa, Ont. Their free dance music is “La Chanson des Vieux Amants” by Jacques Brel.

Valérie Taillefer & Jason Chan (pictured, left) will join Croteau-Villeneuve & Hough on Team Canada. The duo, who are coached by Elise Hamel and Shawn Winter, placed ninth at their JGP event last season and sixth on the junior level at the Canadian Championships. The two Canadian teams went head-to-head in the short dance at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships a few weeks ago, with Taillefer & Chan coming out about three points ahead. Croteau-Villeneuve & Hough fared a little better, points-wise, in the free dance, but the teams competed in different free dance groups.

With no teams competing for Slovakia or neighboring Austria, Nicole Kuzmich & Alexander Sinicyn from the Czech Republic will have the closest thing to home ice advantage. After finishing ninth at two JGP events last year, they placed 22nd at the World Junior Championships. They train with Carol Lane’s group in Toronto, where Kuzmich was born. They will be skating to “Crazy Woman” by Magic Slim and “One Good Reason” by Dem Brooklyn Brothers in the free dance.

Ho Jung Lee and Richard Kang In Kam will make their JGP debut for South Korea. Last season, they competed at Tallinn Trophy to qualify for the World Junior Championships, where they finished 19th. Training with Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe in Vancouver, their free dance is set to tango music.

The short dance will be on Thursday; the free dance will be on Saturday.