Juvenile Skaters Light Up the Arena in Jamestown

by Taylor Firth, Shannon Firth, Michelle Wojdyla and Margot Haglund, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
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U.S. Junior Championships Results and Photos

(12/4/04) — The 2005 U.S. Junior Championships juvenile event concluded Saturday with proof that the future of U.S. skating is bright indeed. From the jumping prowess of the boys and girls to the artistry of the dancers, the juveniles are ready to start making their way up the figure skating ladder of success.

Juvenile Boys
Double Axels were everywhere in the juvenile boys competition, and huge jumps were the norm rather than the exception.

The night belonged to Max Aaron of the Coyotes Skating Club of Arizona. He won his qualifying group and captured straight first-place ordinals in the final, a rarity at this event. Modesty, however, is his strong point.

“I did O.K., not bad,” Aaron said. “My goal was to get out of qualifying and make it into the top 10.”

An assistant captain on his hockey team when he's not winning U.S. titles in singles skating, Aaron showed his dominance on the ice, landing all the doubles, three in combination. His program to “Les Miserables” showed more speed than the rest of the field in both stroking and spinning.

Silver medalist John McKenna (Colonial FSC) had a spiffy move when he went right from a camel spin into a double jump. His double Axel-double toe was huge. His spins were fast with nice positions, and his overall presence on the ice was first rate.

“I thought I did pretty well. My goal was to make top four and stay pretty calm,” McKenna said. “If you try your best, you never know what can happen.”

In third place was Antonio Guterres (All Year FSC). This was his first time at the U.S. Junior Championships as a singles skater. His program to “Lord of the Rings” had a clean double Axel, great speed and spins, and a huge Russian split.

Kevin Han placed fourth with big jumps and nice speed. Edward Sprogis, who won his qualifying group, had some wobbly moments, but was an overall pleasure to watch. He wound up fifth.

Juvenile Girls
The juvenile girls showed that the boys aren't the only ones with the double Axels. It wasn't a perfect night, as bobbles were common, but the enthusiasm and overall presentation was exceptional.

Julie Kim (All Year FSC), who won her qualifying group, captured gold with two clean double Axels, one in combination, great speed and fast spins in her program to “Red Poppy.” The 12- year-old, who is coached by Tammy Gambill, also landed a double Lutz-double toe combination, a double flip-double toe, double loop, solo double Lutz, and a double flip.

After finding out she had won, Kim ran off to find her parents who, she said, “hugged me, kissed me, and cried.” Asked how she is going to celebrate her victory, Kim had one word: “Cake!”

Wearing an elegant, light green dress, Mackenzie Conn (DuPage FSC) took silver with a program that that was both elegant and sophisticated. She performed two double Axels, one in combination with a double toe, a double loop-double loop combination, double Lutz-double loop, solo double Lutz, double Salchow, and double flip. All her jumps were huge and she had good speed throughout the program. Her spiral was a highlight, extended and secure.

Conn has been skating since she was 18-months-old. Now 12, she is planning on moving up to intermediate next season.

Her friend Gabriella was with her when she read the results. “I was so excited,” Gabriella said. “I knew she would do well.”

“I never thought I could be here,” Conn said. “I just always dreamed, but I never thought I could do it.”

After sharing some happy tears with her mom, Conn was looking forward to the competitors' party — and like Kim, also looking forward to dessert.

“I want cheesecake!” Conn said.

Sasha Lanser made upstate New York proud with a bronze medal performance to “Rondo Capriccioso” that was good enough to capture some first and second-place ordinals. The stylish young lady is an intense, mature skater, showing off a double Axel, double Lutz-double toe combination, double flip-double toe, and solo double loop, flip and Salchow.

Lanser, who trains at Westchester Skating Academy in Elmsford, N.Y., and competes on behalf of the Rye FSC, is coached by Tracy Doyle-Lunde and Teresa Aiello-Lash.

“I never thought it would happen,” Lanser said of her medal. “There are so many girls in the U.S. I never thought I'd be top three.”

Diandra Burke (Colonial FSC), the smallest girl in the competition, skated to music from the movie “A Little Princess” and placed fourth. Exotic music was interpreted through arm movements that accentuated the mood. Her jumps were beautiful, her extension exquisite, and her spins were fast and well centered.

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The juvenile pairs event concluded with great presentation from the entire flight of skaters. The programs were fun to watch, and the skaters themselves looked like they were having fun.

Gabrielle Friedenberg and Brett Dunie-Neustadt (Washington FSC) skated a Western-themed program to win gold. They had a unique beginning that had him grab her foot and pull her around him. Their lifts were nice, and side-by-side spins were in unison.

The pair has been together for four years and had a goal of placing in the top four. They were more than happy to win the gold.

Emily Glassberg and Kurt Weiss (Detroit SC) placed second.

“We skated really well and only made one mistake,” Glassberg said. “So that was really good.”

“We wanted to skate clean and stay calm,” Weiss added.

The couple had excellent speed and cute choreography. Their throws and lift were big and looked easy.

Sibling team Tiffany and Christopher Nahm (Los Angeles FSC) had nice lifts and skated very close together in the side-by-side elements. Their paso doble program had tension and drama.

“We did [well] and were more aggressive in the final,” Tiffany said.

“Our goal was to place in the top four and make a name for ourselves,” said Christopher, who thanked coaches Jordan Bell and Darlene Bell. “As a word of advice, double run-throughs really help!”

Capturing the pewter medal were hometown favorites Jennifer Tingley and Michael Donovan.

“We were really happy. We did very well for ourselves,” Tingley said

“We skated the best that we could,” Donovan said, “and that was our goal.”

Juvenile Dance
The juvenile dancers were some of the busiest skaters. They had to skate qualifying, two compulsory dances and the free dance. With the top five teams each receiving at least one first-place ordinal in the final, it was clear that the quality was high.

The winners were Anastasia Cannuscio and Geoffrey Varraux (University of Delaware FSC). They had good edges and held highlight moves with distinction. Their expression matched their music and they had energy to spare, although Varraux had a slight misstep near the end of the program.

“I kind of tripped,” he said. “I put my foot down, but I didn't fall.”

He was able to forget the error and move on because, “it was the end of the program!” he laughed.

The couple is planning on moving up to intermediate next year, and Cannuscio said they are going to work on “strength, power, and stroking, spins, footwork, lifts. Well, everything!”

Their coach, Oleg Fediukov was thrilled for his team.

“They were fabulous!” he said. “I'm very pleased. I think they have a bright future, but for now, they can just enjoy themselves.”

Part of that enjoyment, according to Varraux, is a mini-movie festival featuring “King Arthur” and then a trip home to Florida for Christmas.

In second overall after a third-place in the free dance were Maia and Alex Shibutani. The adorable team had a fun program with tons of energy, excitement, and expression. But don't let their small size fool you. This team has the technical merit to keep them at the top, including a technical highlight of a series of triple twizzles.

“I was really excited,” Maia said. “We skated our best. The free dance is really exciting. It's original and no one else does it but you. You can really have fun with it.”

“We had a great position going into the free dance,” Alex said. “We tried our best — did our best — and that's what's important.”

As for next year, the team is still not sure if they will move up to intermediate.

“We're taking it one step at a time,” Alex explained.

Team Shibutani was very supportive of each other's efforts.

“It always takes a village,” commented Chris, their father, citing the efforts of primary coaches Andrew Stroukoff, Susie Kelley, Mary Marsheselli, Kathy Bird, and choreographer Josh Babb as all contributing to Maia and Alex's success.

Placing fourth in the free dance and third overall were Stephanie Klimczak and Cooper Johnston, both of the Stars FSC of Texas. The program had a ballroom theme and was highlighted by cool lifts, an interesting footwork sequence, and a side-by-side twizzle sequence that ran the length of the ice.

“Our goal was to be on the podium,” Johnston said, “and we met it.”

Klimczak was very positive about the experience. “Anyone can do it if they have perseverance.”

Sara Bailey and Chase Brogan (Charter Oak FSC) were second in the free dance and fourth overall. Their program to “Romeo and Juliet” had great speed and nice lifts and was choreographed by their coaches Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov. The program is dramatic and emotional, and has been the strongest phase of the team's competitions all season.

”All season was very good,” Goncharov said. “Four judges gave them first. One more and they would have been third, but it doesn't matter. We hope next year to make the podium.”