2009 U.S. Nationals
by M. Cora Dew
All photos copyright 2009 George S. Rossano
Many of the technical subtleties, like difficult edge changes, will be caught only by judges, coaches or very knowledgeable fans, but some of the other factors that go in to the teams placement can be assessed by even a casual onlooker. Is the team skating with speed and aggression? Do the head, arms and legs of the competitors have a snap to them? Is the pattern large or small? Are they "on time"? Did one or both skaters trip, splat and roll?
At the Junior level, these skaters have been doing this dance for years. It is not a matter of whether or not they know the steps. They do. It’s the answers to the questions listed above that matter. So, in all respects, we have a level playing field with the dance chosen this year.
Starting at the eventual bottom of the pile, Alison Carey & Daniel Donigan, these two are being coached by two of the pre-eminent compulsory dance coaches in the country, Barret Brown and Tom Lescinski, so the problem must be neither one of these skaters listen to their coaches. How else to explain a Paso skated like a waltz. It was slow, weak and had the soft arm, leg and head movement. Donigan tripped and fell in the first pattern and after that his complete lack of confidence sent this performance into the basement. Even without the fall it probably would have been a last place dance.
Brittany Marshall & Ashley Deavers came in 13th. Deavers has been competing at the Junior level for a number of years yet the dance was sloppy, slow and the couple had little to no extension.
For 12th through 7th places, all these teams with the exception of Bailey & Herring (who crashed), were variations of the same themes. Weak patterns, weak attack, weak expression, slow, behind the beat, ahead of the beat, sloppy etc. Pick any three adjectives and mix and match with the teams.
The 6th place team of Katie Wyble & Justin Morrow showed off their many years of skating together by putting together a competent Paso as well as did Rachel Tibbetts & Colin Brubaker who took 5th place. Tibbetts & Brubaker are only 0.42 points behind the 4th place couple, Shannon Wingle & Timothy McKernan who had a technically accurate if lackluster Paso and ended up 0.58 points behind 3rd place Piper Gilles & Zachary Donohue.
The top 3 teams in the Paso Doble showed up to compete and it should be fun to watch the rest of the events unfold. Each team was crisp and fast and had plenty of attack. Mara & Alex Shibutani held on to first place for most of the competition with their accurate and nicely expressed Paso until the Junior Grand Prix Champions Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein skated and grabbed first place with both hands and pushed the Shibutani’s into second place by almost a full point.
At this point it is a horse race between the first two couples, who are separated by 0.92 points, and third through sixth place, with these couples separated by 1.36 points. There are plenty of points left in the Original Dance and the Free Sance to move these couples around.
The Junior OD segment started with Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus. Their first piece of music was Marilyn Monroe’s "I want to be loved by you." The music was nice, but slow and so was their skating. They had nice footwork and overall it was a pleasant program to watch, but their feet were not clean and the dance lacked a sharpness that would have defined many of their moves and positions. McManusfell out of a twizzle and they ended up 11th.
Second to skate, Sara Bailey & Kyle Herring, were no doubt hoping to redeem themselves from their dual fall and poor showing in the CD. Their overall expression was good, but they had some trouble being together in the twizzles and their second piece of music, "Dancin Fool," which was really too fast for them to keep up with. However, they were able to move up to 10th overall after the CD.
Next, Alison Carey & Daniel Donigan, who also fell in the CD round skated to "Baby its cold outside." In reality their program was terribly cold and painful to watch. They stayed in the cellar at 14th.
Last in the first group was Brittany Marshall & Ashley Deavers. They also had a disastrous skate to a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy medley. He was hunched over, their twizzles were out of sync and she put her foot down. They were behind the music the whole time and she fell in the straight-line footwork. After all that, they are in 13th place.
Things began to look up with the first team to skate in the second warmup group. Shannon Wingle & Timothy McKernan skated to a "Chicago" medley and demonstraed nice expression and nice transitions. The dance was overall fun and fast. You can tell this team is developing and that they should be right in the thick of things next year. They had a rough patch with their twizzles and she cut her finger but finished in 5th place. Her finger had been injured before they arrived here, with a deep cut that really needed some stitching, but was in a place where that was not possible. She reopened the cut here and required attention after the dance.
Next in the second warmup were the Shibutani’s.
What is not to like about these kids? They are loaded with talent and expression and thankfully good skating skills. They are a team on the rise with terrific speed, beautiful edges and a program packed with difficulty. He has to make sure he doesn’t get carried away because at times she has to run after him to catch up with his long legs. The Shibutani’s actually won this round of skating closing the gap but remain in 2nd place less than a point behind the team who skated next, Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein.
Madison Chock was costumed in a blue flapper dress and Zuerlein’s skates were covered to look like spats. This worked well for them and highlighted their feet and body lines, which are excellent. They skate with speed and attack and show off their edges and spatial understanding of each other on the ice very well. They never reached for each other so their transitions seemed seamless. They maintain a slim lead in 1st place.
Following the Junior Grand Prix Champions was the team of Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker. They skated to Nat King Coles, "L.O.V.E." They are a nice looking couple but are still very much a work in progress. They skated the program with moderate speed but had sloppy twizzles. Their program was interesting but careful. They finished the night in 4th overall.
First to skate in the third group was the injured Piper Gilles & Zach Donohue. Starting the program with plenty of attack, Gilles lost her balance and fell backwards. She was able to save a fall by putting her hand down and made it look like it might be part of the dance. They continued to skate with attack but it was somewhat misdirected after the near fall. It almost seemed like she wanted to attack HIM. They skated far apart in the twizzles and she had trouble in the straight line step sequence. Their coach looked like she was going to have trouble with both of them when they were done. The couple maintained 3rd place for their effort.
Next came Chloe Wolf & Rhys Ainsworth, last year's Novice Champions. They looked like a new Junior team in this segment of the competition. That may have been because this is their first foray into the OD segment of competition. They skated slow and cautiously and you got the feeling that the most important thing to do was to have a clean skate, rather than skate and put on a show. They ended up 9th.
Following the former Novice Champs came Elyse Matsumoto & Patrick Mays. They skated to "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and it was a great choice for them. She has an infectious smile, but it was not enough to overcome a few errors. Their straight line step sequence was out of sync and she fell out of the second set of twizzles. They did the ubiquitous Beilmann Spin like the rest of the pack and finished 7th.
The penultimate team to take the ice was Charlotte Lichtman & Dean Copely. They skated a nice program to "I’ve got rhythm." They also had trouble with the twizzles and seemed a little behind the music. Their foot and arm placements need to be cleaned up but chasing the music makes you rush. They completed this segment over all in 8th place.
The last team to take the ice was Katie Wyble & Justin Morrow. Skating to "Sing, Sing, Sing" and "Minnie the Moocher," he had an error on the first part of their straight-line sequence and each of them put a foot down in the twizzles. No position was ever finished and they just rushed through everything as if wishing it were over. They mistook rushing for attack and the final impression was of a sloppy, lackluster performance. They finished 12th after the Original Dance.
Katie Wyble & Justin Morrow skated next and won the award for best shredded rock and roll costume. Skating to "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin they forgot the most important element about Rock & Roll music … that it is an edgy high-wire act of barely contained passion and aggression. Wyble & Morrow were instead too deliberate and too refined. Their skating was very nice but their costuming did not help to sell the program. After all 3 segments, they ended up 12th.
Brittany Marshall & Ashley Deavers attempted to skate next. She had been battling back pain all week and after a fall at the beginning of the program they withdrew from the competition.
Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus skated to "Who’s that Creaper. It looked like they were trying to pack the program with high levels of difficulty by rushing from one element to the next. Unfortunately it made them look like they were flailing around and the program came off sloppy. They finished 10th overall.
Elyse Matsumoto & Patrick Mays next took to the ice next skating to "Shine" by the overused "Bond." Mays fell in the circular step sequence, and Matsumoto fell out of the second set of twizzles. Both the midline step sequence and dance spin were slow. Both have very nice arms and their choreography was unique and engaging but the errors killed them and they ended up 11th.
First to skate in the second warm up group was Chloe Wolf & Rhys Ainsworth performing to "Club to Death." They had good speed and it was a nice program but it was emotionally flat. They ended up 8th.
Sara Bailey & Kyle Herring skated to "A day in the Life" by the Beatles. Trying to have a brand new day and show that the fall in the CD was just a bizarre anomaly, the duo skated with good speed, decent edges and okay choreography. They were ranked 6th in the Free Dance portion but finished 7th overall.
Charlotte Lichtman & Dean Copely skated next to music from the movie "Zorro." Invariably programs set to this music this music are rarely fabulous or memorable. This one was equally as forgetable, with. no fire, no Passion and rushing around the ice seemingly to get it all over with as quickly as possible. They completed this years nationals in 9th place.
Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello had the surprise stand out performance of the night. They were the last to skate in the group and one cringed upon hearing that old war horse, "The Godfather." But, surprise, surprise! While emotionally they did not connect with the music/each-other/audience, everything else was really good. They flew around the ice. Each element segued easily to the next, twizzles, footwork, edges, arms, it all worked and they made it look easy. The judges gave their Free Skate 4th place and they finished right out of the medals in 5th place overall. Next year, with improved emphasize on performance, they could move up into the medals.
First to skate in the final warm up group was the talented brother-sister team Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani. They skated to music from "Cinema Paradiso." Other than Maia falling out of the twizzles, it was a beautiful program. It had a delicate lyrical feel to it and a sophistication that belies their very young ages. They just need to realize that they do not have to smile all the time. As they get older they will develop better facial expression, but for now we will just have to content ourselves with their beautiful skating. They finished 2nd.
Next came Shannon Wingle & Timothy McKernan. Boy does that girl know how to stretch out a line. Both of them have nice extensions, good speed and understand how to give a performance. They had a few small errors in jostling for some positions, being out of sync on twizzles. Skated to "Tosca," it was perhaps not the best musical choice for them. With a piece they can relate to and show off their amazing lines, speed and her Gumby- like flexibility they have the opportunity to move up the ranks easily. Their Free Dance was ranked 5th but they finished 4th overall.
The Junior Grand Prix Champions, Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein, did their "Phantom of the Opera" program next. As the third couple to skate, I felt bad for the two teams that had to follow them. These two did not just want to win the National Title, they also wanted to slam the door on their way out! The couple put on an incredibly emotionally sophisticated program where we watched Raul and Christine fall in love and escape the Phantom. The program was well trained and polished and they delivered it with speed and passion. Their edges were beautiful and quiet!
Bummer for Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker, however, skating after Chock & Zuerlein. Their Free Dance to music by "The Brave" had the wind sucked out of it by the vortex that was Chock & Zuerlein. They did have the coolest outfits of the evening but their program and skating was unremarkable and it was given marks that placed it 7th overall and dropped them to a 6th place finish.
Rounding out the evenings festivities were Piper Gilles & Zachary Donohue. Understanding that less is more in ice dancing, Piper had on a yellow outfit that looked like a couple of pasties and a skirt. A definite crowd pleaser for the male element, however. The team skated to a samba medley and they did a great job keeping up with the frenetic pace of the music. The choreography was interesting and fun. In keeping with "Carnival" there was a lot of hair whipping, shoulder and arm movements that were done with style and precision. This program would have been a train wreck for a lesser team. Piper’s injury did not seem to affect the performance and their scores kept them solidly in 3rd place.
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