by Jacquelyn Thayer
When the junior ice dancers compete this coming week at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, they face an impressive legacy from the junior dancers who competed the last time San Jose, California hosted Nationals. The Junior Class of 1996 included five future Winter Olympians: Jessica Joseph & Charles Butler (Nagano, ’98), Naomi Lang (Salt Lake City, ’02 with Peter Tchernyshev), Melissa Gregory (Torino, ’06 with Denis Petukhov), all of whom represented the United States, plus Kristin Fraser who competed in ’02 and ’06 for Azerbaijan with now-husband Igor Lukanin.
Thirteen teams will compete for spots on the podium and potential trips to the World Junior Figure Skating Championships. Twelve of the teams earned their way through one of the three Sectional competitions.
Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton, fifth at last year’s Nationals in Greensboro, N.C., enter this year’s event as the co-favorites. The team earned a bye courtesy of their participation in the Junior Grand Prix Final, where they finished a strong fourth after earning bronze and silver at JGP Latvia and Austria, respectively. Their Lord of the Dance free dance has scored especially well, and may be a primary key to victory.
Reigning national junior silver medalists Lauri Bonacorsi & Travis Mager have been partners one year longer than Aldridge & Eaton and competed at the 2011 World Junior Championships. Bonacorsi & Mager made their own impressive showing on the JGP circuit, winning silver at JGP Australia and bronze at Trofeo W. Lombardi and earning a spot as first alternates to the JGPF. They won the Eastern Sectional Championship with a total of 123.66, more than ten points above that of second place finishers Rachel & Michael Parsons and easily the highest across the three sectional contests.
Kaitlin Hawayek & Michael Bramante moved up this season from novice, having taken bronze in that level at last year’s Nationals. They round out the list of teams to have competed two JGP events: Brasov Cup, where they placed fourth, and JGP Tallinn. In a tight race at Midwesterns, the duo won the free dance but placed second overall with a total of 113.23 behind Amanda Bertsch & Sam Kaplun’s 114.47. Given two clean performances, Hawayek & Bramante are strong contenders here for the podium.
Last season’s novice champions, Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons, have made a successful move to the junior level. In addition to their silver at Eastern Sectionals, the team made their JGP debut at Baltic Cup, finishing ninth of 21 teams. Most recently, the pair was selected to represent the United States at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, finishing an impressive fourth in the field of 12 and establishing a new personal best total of 114.22. Jet lag may be a factor for the Maryland siblings, as they cross nine time zones in their back-to-back competitions.
Competing in their second year at junior are Madeline Heritage & Nathaniel Fast. Though the couple placed a close second to Elliana Pogrebinsky & Ross Gudis at Pacific Coasts, Heritage & Fast’s swing-based free dance earned the second highest program component score across all three Sectionals events, just below Bonacorsi & Mager’s. The duo finished fifth at their first international competition, the JGP Australia.
Two additional teams participated in the JGP. Midwestern bronze medalists Jessica Mancini & Tyler Brooks, silver medalists at novice last season, made their international debut at Baltic Cup. Twins Danielle & Alexander Gamelin, returning at the junior level, finished ninth at JGP Latvia before improving their total score by almost ten points at Easterns and placing fourth. Just ahead of them with bronze were Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter, who, though the youngest team competing in the event, have posted impressive results against older couples. After earning the second-highest free dance score at Lake Placid, the team swept Skate San Francisco and Challenge Cup and won the free dance at Pikes Peak Classic.
New pairing Roxette Howe & Mark Jahnke each competed at the novice level at last year’s Nationals, Howe with Ryan Farmer and Jahnke with Bryna Oi. Howe & Jahnke placed third at Pacific Coasts, scoring just 1.61 points behind Heritage & Fast in the free dance. Behind Howe & Jahnke in fourth were Cassandra Jeandell & Damian Dodge (pictured), who competed at novice at last year’s Nationals.
Jenna Dzierzanowski & Vinny Dispenza, competing in their second Nationals as juniors, finished fourth at Midwesterns, posting a new personal best total of 82.70.
The junior ice dancers have two official practices Sunday. They begin their competition with the short dance on Tuesday evening and wrap things up Wednesday afternoon with their free dance.