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2014 U.S. National Championships

Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage Win Junior Pairs, Move to Top of Podium After Bronze Finish in 2013

by Klaus-Reinhold Kahny

(10 January 2014)  The general level of the junior pair competition was lower than in the ladies, men and ice dance. Only the winners Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage showed a good international standard. They train in Colorado Springs under Dalilah Sappenfield and Larry Ibarra. They were the 2011 novice champions and have competed since 2012 in the junior field. This season, they had been fourth and second at their two Junior Grand Prix in Tallinn, Estonia and Minsk, Belarus plus had been first at the Midwestern Sectionals. They won in Boston with 160.67 points and a difference of almost 16 points. Five of them they got in the faultless short program to the “Chairman’s Waltz” from the soundtrack of “Memoirs of a Geisha”, even if their double twist had only level 1 and their required throw toeloop was only double. But the double axel, the lift and the step sequence were excellent.

Settlage commented: “We have trained this program so much that it was just another run-through.” Aaron, who is the younger sister of reigning US men’s senior champion Max Aaron, added: “A big thing for us is to stay calm when we are competing.” And Sappenfield confirmed: “The big thing was to trust the training. This year they are not as emotional, they don’t react to mistakes.”

Their long program to music of Khachaturian’s “Spartacus”, however, had several mistakes: The triple twist had only a basic level because Settlage did not catch his partner correctly in the air. She put her hand on the ice during the triple throw loop, both stepped out of the side by side triple Salchow and Aaron stepped out of the triple throw Salchow. The lifts and the spin got pluspoints as well as the death spiral even if it was only level 1. They performed in good lines and with good expression and had a higher speed than all other pairs.

In spite of the mistakes, Settlage commented afterwards: “We had a pretty good skate.” And Aaron added: “We really attacked and were resetting after each element. It was an accomplishment in itself that we were able to make mistakes and keep going and recover quickly and just fight on everything."

Aaron also commented about his brother who had not competed in Boston after the end of the junior pairs competition: “It is exciting and nerving to watch him prepare. He has a lot more pressure than I had. Settlage added: “We draw from the energy he gives off. We'll see him do multiple programs and that will inspire us to work just as hard and match that effort. And for the senior pairs, we can sit back and relax and watch how they cope with the pressure to qualify for the Olympics. Maybe in four years we want to qualify for the next Olympics and now we can get a learning experience.” They are aging out of juniors at the end of this season, so this year is their last chance to go to Junior Worlds. But compared to the pairs from Russia and China who competed in the ISU Junior Final, their general standard has a lot of room for improvement.

The pairs on the positions two, three and four are all coached by former world silver medalists Jenni Meno and Todd Sand. The best of the three were Chelsea Liu and Devin Perini who won silver with a score of 144.82. In the fall, they had been fifth at their Junior Grand Prix in Ostrava in the Czech Republic and in Kosice in Slovakia. In the short program in Boston, five of the elements were at least good and four of them had level 4, but the throw toeloop was only double and the side-by-side double axel a bit shaky and not performed in good harmony. Their style to the popular music of “42nd Street“ was energetic.

Perini later said: "I think that this was one of the better programs that we've done. There was a lot of energy between us. Our connection has been getting better.” Jenni Meno explained: "She has grown quite a bit, but now she has a beautiful double Axel, and that was a big step for them. The biggest thing for us is for them to keep improving every year."

At the beginning of the free program, however, Liu fell on the double axel, the landing of the triple twist was not clean, she stepped out of the throw triple Salchow and the jump combination of double flip and double toeloop was out of sync. The other elements were good, the Axel lift even very good, but their program was a bit too long. Liu admitted that they had “a couple of bobbles here and there”. Like the winners they will age out of juniors.

Their training mates Anna Marie Pearce and Jason Pacini won the bronze medal with 139.32 points. They could not train as long this season because Pacini broke his ankle in the summer and both had other injury problems. In the short program, Pearce fell on the double axel and the death spiral had only a basic level, but on the other hand they had a solid triple throw toeloop and three elements had a level 4. In the long, they were only fifth after Pearce fell on the double axel and the throw triple Salchow and lower levels, but they kept their third position. “It was definitely not a clean program”, Pacini said. “But we are happy that we are here, because we had to push through the season.”

Meno/Sand’s third team of Elise Middleton and Anthony Evans finished fourth with 136.64 points. Six of their short program elements were clean but Middleton stepped out of the triple throw toeloop. Their side by side jumps were only double loop, flip and toeloop, but on the other hand they made no serious mistake in the free program. Brianna de la Mora and Taylor Wilson of Texas ended up fifth with 131.64 points. They had problems with their individual double axel and double flip, but their triple twist and triple throw Salchow were clean. Olivia Oltmanns and Joshua Santillan of Colorado Springs are sixth, earning 128.82 points after a short program with two falls, but the third best long program which included two good lifts, a side by side triple Salchow and a triple throw Salchow.