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2014 U.S. National Championships

Madeline Aaron & Max Settlage Finish First in the Junior Pairs Short Program

by Doris Spicer Pulaski

(9 January 2014) Madeline Aaron & Max Settlage won the short program at the US National Junior Pairs Championships by presenting a technically conservative program, skated very well for a total score of 58.77 points. Last season, Aaron & Settlage led the Jumior Pairs competition after the short program, but dropped to third place and failed to qualify for the 2013 Junior Worlds Pairs event. This year, the Colorado team gives the aura of being careful and taking care of business. The team earned positive grades of execution for every element in their stylish program, choreographed by Caterina Lindgren & Julie Marcotte to "The Chairman's Waltz" from the soundtrack of Memoirs of a Geisha, which the Colorado-based pair delivered in a focused, no-nonsense style

Aaron & Settlage, who train with Dalilah Sappenfield & Larry Ibarra, only attempted a level 1 double twist and a throw double toe loop. However, their double Axels were landed with nice unison on beautiful, secure, flowing edges. Their step sequence was ruled a level 4, as was their pair spin and their toe lasso lift. The team also received level 3 for their back inside death spiral.

Chelsea Liu & Devin Perrini earned second place with a score of 53.93. Liu stumbled on the landing of her double Axel, and the team's throw double toe loop had little height or length. The other elements of their program, including a level 3 back inside death spiral, a level 4 step sequence, a level 4 pair spin, and a level 4 toe lasso lift, were very solid and earned positive grades of execution. Their routine to the score of Forty Second Street, the choice of their choreographers Todd Sand, Christine Binder, Cindy Stuart, and Jonathan Cassar, had the audience clapping along. A real high point of the program was the height and clean execution of their double twist lift. Liu has grown a lot during this past season. The team, who are coached by Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, looks better matched as a result, but the 14-year- old's growth has probably affected her jumps and throws.

The couple in third place after the short program, AnnaMarie Pearce & Jason Pacini, skated an amusing, playful routine to "Sous le Ciel de Paris" by Guglielmi and "La Vie en Rose" by Giraud, dressed as French street performers. The team successfully completed one of the few throw triple toe loops in the competition with good height, and good flow on the landing. Their footwork was completely in time with the music, and the couple maintained a charming connection with each other throughout the program. Another highlight was a very nice level 4 toe lasso lift. However, Pearce stepped out of her double Axel, and was unable to get low enough in the back inside death spiral to earn more than a basic level for the skill. Their total score was 52.28.

Elise Middleton & Anthony Evans are currently in fourth place with a score of 49.20. Middleton, whose sister Alexis competed in Novice Ice Dance with Michael Valdez at the 2014 Prudential US Figure Skating Championships, stepped out of the landing on the throw triple toe loop. The awkward exit of their toe lasso lift was quite rough; it was difficult to tell whether it was actually complex or was just botched. On the positive side of the ledger, the unison and coherent effect of the team's level 4 footwork earned high marks from the judges, and fitted beautifully with the song, "Moon River."

Texas skaters Brianna de la Mora & Taylor Wilson, who finished in fifth place in the Pairs Short Program, interpreted "Sarugina Rhumba," by 17 Hippies and Nina Rota, to earn 45.32 points. The team failed to display the unison and connection required to earn a high grade of execution for their footwork. The pair also had a very low and small throw double toe loop, and most costly of all, de la Mora stepped out of her double Axel.

Kaitlyn Budd & Nicholas Cheban skated in gray and black ragged costumes to the driving rhythm of Grieg's, "In the Hall of the Mountain King." As the music became faster and more frantic, Budd & Cheban had difficulty keeping up it, a problem that was partially reflected in their program component scores, and partially in the grade of execution of their step sequence. Budd fell on an ambitious attempt at a throw triple toe loop. Although both Budd & Cheban landed their double Axels, they were so far apart that they received an overall negative grade of execution for the element. The Detroit-based duo are currently in sixth place with 43.58 points.

The seventh place team, Alyssa McDougal & Paul Schatz, who are coached by Lyndon Johnston in Ellenton, FL, earned 42.23 points for their program to "Asturias" by Albeniz. McDougal fell on the landing of her throw triple toe loop.

Choreographer Massimo Scali created a high energy, jazzy program to "Jump Swing Blues" by Rick Krive for   Aya Takai & Brian Johnson. The Michigan-based skaters rocked out to the beat, but lost that energy when Takai fell on her double Axel attempt. The couple is currently in eighth place with a score of 42.20.

Olivia Oltmanns & Joshua Santillan skated to "Forty Second Street." Oltmanns fell twice-once on her double axel, and again on her throw triple toe loop. The team earned 40.94 points, and is currently in ninth place.

Cali Fujimoto & Nicholas Barsi-Rhyne's "West Side Story" routine tragically earned them the tenth place with a score of 40.69 points, hampered by severely under -rotated double axels, and a very badly executed, low, and crashy double twist.