by Martha L. Kimball
Julie Vlassov & Drew Meekins
Twelve teams competed in the Novice Pairs Short Program event on Sunday, January 4, at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Hardly the splat-fest that one fears witnessing when lower-level pairs, who are learning and growing, compete, the event was quite cleanly skated in spite of the occasional bobble and rare fall.
Since the judging of the event was "closed," marks were available only when the results were posted some fifteen minutes after the final competitors took their bow. Although that led to considerable suspense, it also made the event run efficiently.
Kelly Settelen and Andrew Goldman of Newark, Delaware, found their names posted in fourth place, a result of ordinals ranging from 3 to 8. The duo, similar in height, attacked their program, presenting pulsating, avant-garde choreography and well-done elements.
Keauna McLaughlin, 11, and Ethan Burgess, 20, a tiny-and-tall couple that trains in Torrance, California, ended in third place going into the long after presenting clean elements, notably a high twist lift that is facilitated by McLaughlin’s diminutive size. Not surprisingly, McLaughlin’s skating idol is Ekaterina Gordeeva. The team has been together for a scant five months. The "Spanishy-disco type of thing" (Burgess’s characterization of their program) was skated to Santa Esmeralda.
Mariel Miller and Rockne Brubaker, Northwestern Sectional champions, will enter the long program in second place thanks to a strong, fast performance to selections from Love Story. The teenagers, 13 and 17, who have been together just four months, made only one noticeable error in a program that they attacked from the first step. Brubaker admitted, "I did some extra turns coming out" of the side-by-side spins. The duo trains in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The current overall leaders are Eastern Sectional champions Julia Vlassov and Drew Meekins. "We skated clean. I was happy with my performance," said the daughter (and pupil) of world pairs medallist Aleksandr Vlassov. Meekins confessed, though, "We were a little bit slow." He also cheerfully agreed that the side-by-side camel spins could have been better. "We started it a little far apart. Before it I told her that her scrunchie was falling out, so I think that that might have distracted her a little."
Vlassov, 13, and Meekins, 17, surged into A Fifth of Beethoven, skating close together and demonstrating good unison.
Said Vlassov, who was born in St. Petersburg, "It’s really exciting having my dad as a coach. It helps me a lot. We like to split father and coach. At the rink he’s a coach. At home he’s a dad." She declined to characterize her work as part of the Russian pairs tradition, pointing out that her style is all-American. She admits, though, that some of her father’s training methods reflect the discipline of the old Soviet school. That will surely be of help when the Novice Pairs final begins on January 5.
They may have skated to music from Mission Impossible, but it was clear that Julia Vlassov and partner Drew Meekins had set themselves a task fully within their reach: winning the U.S. Novice Pairs title today (Monday, January 5) at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Leading after the short program with six first-place ordinals, the Eastern Sectional champions, ages 13 and 18, skated last in the final round and put the icing on the cake, winning over one additional judge for seven first placements.
Performing in pewter-colored costumes with a sleek, avant-garde look, to music from the spy thriller and themes from The Pink Panther, Vlassov & Meekins showed off a high split triple twist lift, a combination overhead lift with an unusual inverted variation, a solid throw triple Salchow, and side-by-side double Lutzes.
Meekins’s mother, waiting nervously for the results of the closed judging to be posted, commented that her son was fortunate to skate with such a mature young woman from a family that treats him as their own. Mr. Vlassov, far more than a second father, is the team’s coach. The former world medallist (with Irina Vorobieva) agreed warmly, "That’s the only way it can be."
"He’s very calm," said the genial Vlassov of Meekins. "That’s important for a partner. Very calm, very disciplined."
The elder Vlassov injects artistry into the team’s programs in the form of interesting jump entrances and lift and spin variations, notably a spin in which his daughter performs a solo before launching into a pair spin, an item that Vlassov retained in his subliminal repertoire from the days when his own teacher, Tamara Moskvina, performed a similar maneuver.
Mariel Miller and Rockne Brubaker (named for his father and not necessarily Knute Rockne) stayed in the second place that they claimed in the short program. Wearing royal blue costumes with a military flavor, they performed to the soundtrack of Pearl Harbor.
The team of just four months’ standing led off with a high triple twist and a throw double Axel, then also executed a throw double Salchow, a variety of side-by-side double jumps, and an intriguing chair lift that segued into a "sideways inverted overhead lift."
The Midwestern champions were delighted with the fast and sure way that they skated. They plan to train as hard as possible and maintain high goals for the future.
Keauna McLaughlin and Ethan Burgess maintained their short-program position of third with an artistic interpretation of Dvorak’s New World Symphony performed in leather and fringe as Native Americans. It was a heady position for the bronze medallists from the Pacific Coast Sectionals, ages 11 and 20.
McLaughlin, at just 70 pounds in weight and 55 inches in height, is brand-new to pair skating but not to be underestimated. Her partner, 17 inches taller, has five to six years’ experience in the discipline.
Together they presented a double twist lift, a throw double Salchow, side-by-side double Axels, a one-hand side-by-side double flips to falling leaves to double toe loops.
Aaryn Smith and Will Chitwood, who train in Colorado Springs, overcame their sixth placement in the short program to finish fourth overall, trading places with Kelly Settelen and Andrew Goldman of the University of Delaware who suffered two falls during side-by-side jumps. Kylie Gleason and Taylor Toth remained in fifth place.
J1: Samuel Auxier
J2: Ron Del Cas
J3: Claire Ferguson
J4: Steve Winkler
J5: Deborah Currie
J6: Beth Graham
J7: Patricia French
J8: Todd Bromley
J9: Joseph Driano
|1||Julie Vlassov & Drew Meekins||2||2||1||1||1||1||1||2||1||6/1|
|2||Mariel Miller & Rockne Brubaker||1||1||2||2||2||2||2||1||2||9/2|
|3||Keauna McLaughlin & Ethan Burgess||7||3||3||4||4||6||3||4||7||6/4|
|4||Kelly Settelen & Andrew Goldman||3||5||4||5||5||7||8||7||3||6/5|
|5||Kylie Gleason & Taylor Toth||6||7||6||3||3||5||7||3||4||5/5||18|
|6||Aaryn Smith & Will Chitwood||4||4||7||7||7||3||5||6||5||5/5||21|
|7||Bianca Butler & Joseph Jacobson||5||11||5||8||8||4||4||5||6||5/5||23|
|8||Melissa Bedell & Brandon Hanson||10||9||9||6||6||8||9||9||11||7/9||56|
|9||Molly Aaron & Daniel Curzon||9||12||8||9||9||9||6||11||9||7/9||59|
|10||Chloe Katz & Joseph Lynch||8||10||12||12||12||11||10||8||10||5/10|
|11||Tamara Tossey & Jordan Judt||11||6||11||11||10||10||11||12||8||8/11|
|12||Katie Eison & Daniel Eison||12||8||10||10||11||12||12||10||12||5/11|
|1||Julie Vlassov & Drew Meekins||2||2||1||1||1||1||1||1||1||7/1|
|2||Mariel Miller & Rockne Brubaker||1||1||2||2||2||2||2||2||2||9/2|
|3||Keauna McLaughlin & Ethan Burgess||5||3||3||3||3||3||3||5||3||7/3|
|4||Aaryn Smith & Will Chitwood||4||5||4||4||5||4||4||3||7||6/4|
|5||Kylie Gleason & Taylor Toth||3||4||5||5||4||6||5||4||4||5/4|
|6||Kelly Settelen & Andrew Goldman||6||6||6||6||6||5||6||7||5||8/ 6|
|7||Bianca Butler & Joseph Jacobson||7||7||7||8||7||7||7||6||6||8/7|
|8||Molly Aaron & Daniel Curzon||9||8||9||7||10||8||8||10||9||7/9|
|9||Tamara Tossey & Jordan Judt||8||10||8||9||9||11||12||8||11||5/9|
|10||Melissa Bedell & Brandon Hanson||10||9||11||11||8||10||10||9||8||7/10|
|11||Chloe Katz & Joseph Lynch||11||11||12||10||11||12||9||12||10||6/11|
|12||Katie Eison & Daniel Eison||12||12||10||12||12||9||11||11||12||9/12|
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