by Martha L. Kimball
All photos copyright 2007 by George S. Rossano
Sam Auxier, referee, was assisted by technical controller Steve Winkler and
technical specialist Kenneth Shelley. The announcer noted that the thirteen pairs in the field represented fourteen different states.
It was Junior Grand Prix Final gold medalists Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker’s competition to lose, and they gave barely an inch.
McLaughlin, 14, and Brubaker, 20, a new team since their try-out last February, have lost no time in shooting to the top of the field. Coach Dalilah Sappenfield credited their matching styles, classical and lyrical.
In ballet pink and black, performing to the lush score of the romantic film Somewhere in Time, the team was fast, strong and yet somehow soft.
They performed a level-four lift that received huge GOEs; double Axels; a highly-rated soaring double twist lift; a throw triple Salchow; a level-four side-by-side combination spin that was off just a bit toward the end; a level-four spiral sequence; a level four pair spin; and a high-GOE back outside death spiral, for marks of 37.31 for elements, 24.45 for components, and a commanding total segment score of 61.76.
McLaughlin called the effort "our personal best by a mile."
Asked to rate the program, Brubaker said, "The twist was really good for us, but everything in general felt really smooth. We finished everything really well….We try to do the highest levels, but we also focus on a lot of things like presentation. That’s where we made up a lot of points, I think: in our skating skills. It’s something that we really focus on: the overall look of the program, just making sure that it flows across the ice."
McLaughlin comes from a skating pedigree. Her mother performed in ice shows including Disney on Ice, Bietak productions, and the Gordeeva – Grinkov television version of The Nutcracker.
Bianca Butler, 17, and Joseph Jacobsen, 19, Pacific Coast champions, smiled throughout their Nutcracker "Pas de Deux."
Wearing soft seafoam green, hers trimmed in pink, the Meno & Sand team opened with a well-executed double twist, then performed double flips, a good throw triple Salchow, side-by-side spins, a level four overhead lift,
a high-GOE level four spiral sequence, a back outside death spiral with variation, and a level four combination pair spin.
Overall, the program was clean, strong, confident, and exciting, for second-place marks of 32.05, 22.43 and 54.48.
Asked if the week in Spokane had featured any odd little twists, Meno and Jacobsen looked at each other and laughed. When Jacobsen had asked coach Todd Sand, Meno’s husband, to tighten his skate blade, Sand cut his hand badly enough to require stitches, though he thoughtfully minimized the drama so as not to perturb his students at a crucial moment.
Tiny Jessica Rose Paetsch, who will be 14 on January 31, and Jon Nuss, 19, the Junior Grand Prix Final bronze medalists who train at the Broadmoor, skated in teal to music from the movie Anastasia. In her delicate dress, with her hair piled in curls on top of her head, Paetsch looked like a music box ballerina.
The 2006 Novice champions grinned as though at an inside joke as they sailed along the boards in a spiral sequence, Nuss’s leg practically grazing the audience.
He confessed with a laugh, "That happens. In practice every day I kick the wall on that spiral. I get in a lot of trouble about that daily."
Paetsch’s biggest logistical challenge involved keeping the throw triple Salchow inside the rink. She rated the distance-covering maneuver their strongest element of the day and exulted, "I didn’t hit the wall!"
Said coach Sappenfield – yes, Dalilah has two teams currently in the top three – "We skate in an Olympic-size rink. Coming to a smaller rink, we’ve had to really adjust. The corners seem to be very tight, which throws off some of our patterns and choreography."
The duo performed a level four one-handed lift and a double flip before coming to grief on the double twist lift. The audience, which had been mesmerized, let out a collective Ohhhhh.
Nuss explained, "I caught her a little high on her torso and it slipped off, so I couldn’t stop the rotation very well and she slipped out of it."
Then came the remarkable throw; a level four spiral sequence; side-by-side spins; a death spiral; and finally a level four pair spin, for marks of 32.37, 21.56 and 53.93, enough for third place.
Kaela Pflumm, 15, and Christopher Pottenger, 19, fifth at the Junior Grand Prix Final, took fourth place with marks of 30.98, 20.84 and 51.82 for their skate to the soundtrack of The Truman Show. They had only one negative GOE and earned two level fours. Their spiral sequence was particularly nice.
Andrea Best, 18, and Trevor Young 19, Midwestern champions, came fifth with their Pink Panther program for which Best wore a black unitard trimmed in hot pink. Their death spiral and pair spin rated level fours, but a disastrous side-by-side spin combination received no credit. Best and Young earned marks of 28.88, 20.06, and 48.94.
Eastern champions Meg Byrne, 16, and Nathan Bartholomay, 17, who train at the University of Delaware, skated in port-colored costumes to "Ani," a pulsing, exciting musical piece. With three level fours but quite a number of negative GOEs, they received marks of 28.99, 19.10, and 48.09 to land in sixth place going into the long program.
Opening segment winners (by a substantial margin of 7.28 points) Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker performed first in the final flight, wearing rich burgundy costumes, to "Dance of the Nights" from Romeo and Juliet.
They had warmed up strong, with a big throw delivered with a "what’s the big deal?" attitude that carried over into a fast, powerful opening.
The first element, a huge level three triple twist, earned almost the maximum possible GOEs. McLaughlin then two-footed the throw triple Salchow, but the next element, a level four lift, went on forever. Next came a clean double Axel, a great level four combination pair spin and level four pair spirals. The musical interpretation was excellent throughout the opening.
Then things began to go awry. McLaughlin fell on the throw triple loop and singled the Lutz in a jump sequence. The side-by-side spin combination began out-of-sync, and there were minor footwork errors before the program righted itself as if by magic and concluded with an outstanding lift and death spiral.
The marks reflected the overall strength and difficulty of the program: 51.91 for elements, 49.56 for components, 100.47 for the segment, and 162.23 overall.
Said Brubaker, "The middle section, obviously, from the throw loop, was a little shaky. We decided to put the throw triple loop in for this competition. This is our first competition doing two throw triples, and I thought it was great [that] probably about seven months ago Keauna hadn’t even tried a throw triple, and now here we are at Nationals doing two of them. We just wanted to put it out there, hoping that if we got Junior Worlds it would be our second competition with the throw. After that, I felt like we finished really strong."
Brubaker won the Junior title two years ago with a previous partner, then sat out the end of 2006 season.
"Last year I was sitting in the stands watching. I had competed up through the Junior Grand Prix final, and then a couple of weeks before Nationals my partner and I decided not to skate together any more."
Now that Brubaker is back on track, with a partner whom coach Dalilah Sappenfield calls a "tough cookie," the only new partner she considered for him, he can say, "This is probably my favorite Nationals, the first year with Keauna skating together. It’s a wonderful experience. I look forward hopefully to Junior Worlds and what next year brings."
Bianca Butler and Joseph Jacobsen, second in the Short Program, presented Rachmaninoff’s "Allegro Scherzando" from Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, a soft piece with a soft and measured flow to match.
Wearing purple and violet, they opened with a slightly flawed triple twist, then nailed a throw double loop and double flips. They had minor deductions for a level four lift but were strong through the following level four elements: combination pair spin and pair spiral sequence.
Butler then fell on a throw triple Salchow, but the rest of the program was clean: double Lutz--double flip jump sequence; level four side-by-side combination spins; footwork; a one-handed overhead; and a forward inside death spiral. The crowd reacted with great warmth, and the judges awarded scores of 46.82, 46.53, and 92.35 for 146.83 overall -- and the silver medal.
The 5-foot-4 and 6-foot-1 pair have competed together ever since winning the Southwest Pacific Regionals as Juveniles in 2000. Butler actually grew up in Lake Arrowhead, a Mecca of figure skating, and took his first steps on the historic ice of the open-air rink that is no longer there. Today he has the good fortune to train in Alisa Viejo as part of the John Nicks pairs dynasty that has included Starbuck & Shelley, Babilonia & Gardner, and the team’s current coaches, Meno & Sand.
Butler confesses that he doesn’t generally give that historic perspective much thought until someone asks him about it, but he agrees that Nicks makes a valuable contribution.
Jessica Rose Paetsch and Jon Nuss, third in the opening segment, presented a contrast to their lyrical third-place short program with a jazzy interpretation of "Sing, Sing, Sing."
The petite and vivacious Paetsch could not possibly have looked, well – cuter. The bodice of her dress was black with metallic gold stripes while the skirt was fringed in black. With a headband below the blonde hair that was curled on top of her head, she evoked a flapper look that suited both the music and her energetic personality.
After a costly error in the Short Program event, the duo, who have competed together only since the start of the 2006 season, knew they had to be clean to move up a spot. They began quite well with a high triple twist, then Paetsch briefly touched down a hand on the throw triple Salchow. Nuss countered by putting a foot down prematurely on the Lutz. There were small programs with the ensuing lift and side-by-side combination spin, but the level four spiral sequence went well, before a glitch on the throw double loop.
There followed a double Lutz—double flip jump sequence, a strong level four lift, and then a very odd combination spin in which Nuss somehow slipped and ended with his leg on the ice. The final footwork was fine, and the death spiral with change of hand was quite impressive. Most likely the program couldn’t have ended a moment too soon for this high-quality pair. The judges awarded 44.92, 45.42, and 89.34 (making theirs the fourth-place free skate), but the combined score of 143.27 was good enough for the bronze medal.
"We had a good international season," Nuss said in a somewhat subdued but not defeated tone. "We had a couple of mistakes here in both programs, and it wasn’t our sharpest, but pretty good."
Kaela Pflumm and Christopher Pottenger, fourth in the Short Program, happened to have chosen the same Rachmaninoff piece as Butler and Jacobsen. They performed last in the final flight. The team from the Ron Ludington stable wore burgundy and metallic gold and opened with attractive choreography that included a slide-through into a triple twist followed by a level four lift.
Pottenger two-footed the double Axel, and their flying camel combination spin went out of sync. The death spiral was nice, though, and their pair spiral sequence received a level four. Next came a throw double loop, a double Lutz—double flip jump sequence, and a lift that received heavy GOE deductions. A throw triple Lutz, entered with great caution, ended with a hand down. The ensuing footwork was a bit off, but the final combination pair spin was fine. It was a pleasant program that earned marks of 47.80, 42.95, and 90.75 for a third-place free skate and a total combined score of 143.07 for fourth place overall.
Andrea Best and Trevor Young, fifth in the Short Program event, ended the competition in fifth overall. It was their misfortune, perhaps, to skate first in the third of four warm-up groups. With Best in lavender and seafoam green and Young in black and purple with a green sash, the team performed to Samson and Delilah.
The duo presented four level four elements and great double Axels, but Best turned out of the throw double flip and there were further deductions for a slow, sloppy footwork sequence, a slightly "off" camel combination spin, and a flawed lift. The judges awarded the effort 27.11, 38.81, and 85.92 for a competition total of 134.86.
Return to title page