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2013 U.S. National Championships

by Doris Spicer Pulaski

(24 January 2013

Britney Simpson & Matthew Blackmer of the Broadmoor SC won their first championship at the 2013 U.S. Nationals Junior Pairs championship Tuesday, a goal that had just evaded them last year, when they finished with the silver medal. Simpson & Blacker, who skated to the soundtrack from "Henry V by Patrick Doyle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, claimed the gold medal by scoring 97.13 points in the free skate for a grand total of 148.84 points. When they were asked about how they finally achieved their goal, Simpson explained, "I think that today, all we focused on was going out, having fun, and performing, and that's what we did." Her partner agreed.

Britney Simpson & Matthew Blackmer Move up in Free Skate to Capture Junior Pairs Title

It's a success that's been a long time coming for the sixteen year-old Simpson, who answered a press inquiry about the length of time she and her partner have been competing together, and whether they plan to compete at the senior level next year, " I believe we are planning to move up to senior next year, but I've been junior four years, and I've gotten fourth, second and second, and now a gold, so it's been definitely been ups and downs, and I think that because of that, I have learned so much from when I first came to Nationals at 13 to now at 16. It's been kind of fun, and people have seen us grow up quite a bit, so it's kind of cool."

Simpson added, "We've been coming to nationals for a very long time, and we've been so close. ...We took all pressure off of ourselves for these nationals, unlike last nationals, and we got what we wanted, and so it was just happy to finally relax, and be happy that we did what we trained."

In fact, the team had clearly done what their coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, trained them to do. They completed nine of eleven of their elements for positive grades of execution, from a well-executed double Axel-double Axel sequence to their final level 4 pair combination spin. The highlights of their routine were a well-executed throw triple loop, rare to see in junior competition, and their beautiful forward inside death spiral, which also earned level four and high grades of execution. Their two problems were an edge call on the solo double flip jump and a problem with their throw triple Salchow.

Blackmer then commented on their progress, "Last year, we came in here with some great expectations, put a lot of pressure on ourselves,..but we were right there but not quite; so to get to this year was really big. It was super emotional, kind of a validation for what we have been working so hard for.

The second place team, Jessica Noelle Calalang & Zack Sidhu, last season's pewter medalists, who are coached by former U.S. pairs champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, were not quite as pleased with their performance to the soundtrack from The Artist" by Ludovic Bource. Calalang remarked, "Today we skated pretty well. It wasn't our best, but we always skate to win, and we had a lot of fun today."

The duo moved up from third place in the short program to finish second in the free skate and claim the silver medal over all, with a free skate score of 93.20, and a total score of 141.52, despite not having a perfect performance. Calalang crashed heavily onto Sidhu's shoulders during their triple twist attempt, and also pitched forward, putting two hands down on the ice, when she tried to land a triple Salchow throw. The landings of the three jumps in the team's double Lutz-double toe-double toe combination were not synchronized either.

Calalang & Sidhu did not need a perfect performance to win silver because Madeline Aaron & Max Settlage, the third place team, had a very, very difficult time in their free skate to the "Carmen Suite" by Bizet and Schederin. Five of the eleven of the bronze medalists at the Junior Grand Prix event at Lake Placid were severely flawed, and they were penalized for three different falls. In fact, their score, 85.47, was only high enough to earn fourth place in the free skate, but their total score of 138.41 was high enough to edge out Chelsea Liu & Devin Perini for the bronze medal.

When asked what was going on in her mind during the disastrous routine, and questioned how she could stay so well in the character of Carmen, despite the errors, Aaron was philosophical, "Well obviously my mind kind of grasped onto the mistakes, but every time we run a program, we just think about staying in character. The only way to finish was to stay in character and put a smile on my face, even if I didn't feel it...Today we didn't do exactly what we trained, but we're happy to walk away with a medal.

When asked what lessons they would take from this competition, Aaron answered, "I definitely feel like we've grown a lot this year, and its just another learning experience; we're going to take that and just keep going.

The third place finishers in the free skate, Chelsea Liu, 12, & Devin Perini, 19, who skated a playful routine to music associated with the actor Charlie Chaplin, missed out on the bronze medal by a mere 0.10 point, 138.31 to Aaron & Settlage's 138.41 points, and had to settle for the pewter medal.

Brianna de la Mora &Taylor Wilson of the Texas Gulf Coast FSC earned 78.53, but only sixth place in the free skate and 120.84 overall to finish a distant fifth. Jessica Pfund & AJ Reiss improved over their short program placing of seventh to finish fifth in the free skate and sixth overall by 0.03 of a point, with a total score of 120.81.

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