Ice Network

Style, spunk propel Rydberg to novice ladies lead

Bostonian Peng places second in tight race; Le lands in third place
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Paige Rydberg landed a double Axel, triple Salchow-double loop and triple toe en route to winning the short with a score of 45.16. -Jay Adeff

Sometimes, a clean program still wins the day.

A strong novice ladies field showed some triple Lutzes and a flip or two in their short programs at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston on Sunday, but Paige Rydberg proved that quality, plus some smart choreography, goes a long way.

The 14-year-old from Plainfield, Ill., showed off a dancer's grace and solid jumps in her stylish short to Latin music, stepping out to a one-point lead.

"I wanted to go out there and skate clean, and I was happy I did that," Rydberg said. "It felt good to land everything. I've been doing it all season, so there is no reason I shouldn't do it here."

Rydberg didn't show the most difficult jumps, but all three -- including a triple Salchow, double toe loop combination and solo triple toe -- were executed in the second half of her program, earning bonus points.

"It's a little bit nerve-wracking," she said. "You think, 'OK, I still have two more elements before my jumps.' It's a stamina thing."

Rydberg, whose first love was dance before skating took center stage, capitalized on fast, sprightly steps and Level 4 spins, which added to her 45.16 score.

"Her personality really shone through today," said Mary Alice Antensteiner, who coaches Rydberg at Darien Sportsplex. "She's a real spunky girl. I totally enjoy being with her in the rink every day."

Antensteiner called Rydberg's choreography "a team effort."

"I lay it out, Mary Beth Marley puts in a lot of the choreography, and Scott Brown tweaks it and works with us all the time," the coach said.

Rydberg, who still takes ballet classes, credits dedicated viewing of TV dance shows with some of her on-ice verve. Her favorite: Lifetime's Dance Moms, where battling stage mothers often elbow their talented daughters out of the spotlight.

"Before I was kind of stiff and not so showy," the eighth grader said. "Then I started watching the shows and thought about how my motions should go. That did help me a lot."

Rydberg is quick to add that her mom, Theresa Koris, is nothing like the combative ladies featured on her favorite dance show.

"She's never really at the rink," the skater said.

"I'm a single mom; I'm too busy working," Koris added with a laugh.

Hometown girl Rebecca Peng, who trains at the Skating Club of Boston (SCOB) under Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, opened her Spanish-themed short with a solid triple loop, followed by a triple Lutz-double toe and superbly controlled double Axel. She sits second with 44.24 points.

"It was a solid program, even though I had to fight for a few things," Peng said. "I've been working on the triple Lutz-double toe for quite a few months to get it to this level. It's been a challenge."

The 14-year-old freshman at Newton North High School is relishing the chance to skate in front of friends and family, plus her SCOB training partners. Christina Gao, who competes in senior ladies later this week, was one of those cheering her on.

"It's awesome to compete near your training ground because everyone comes out and roots for you," said Peng, who finished seventh in novice last season. "It's very special. The other kids at the rink support me and I support them in return."

A diminutive 13-year-old, Vivian Le, grabbed third place with her smooth and speedy short to East of Eden.

Le showed off a 'Tano triple Lutz and lovely Ina Bauer but faltered on the landing of her triple toe and was unable to complete a combination. Superb Level 4 spins added to her 44.18 points.

"I see all the other kids; their spins are OK. I want mine to be 'Wow!' so I work on them a lot," said Le, who trains in Dallas under Aleksey Letov and his wife, choreographer Olga Ganicheva. "I was comparing my scores to others and I get pluses on mine, [while] some people get base value."

About the 'Tano, done with one arm overhead, she said, "It's not that hard for me because I'm used to it. It makes my jump bigger."

Letov and Ganicheva have built a strong program in Dallas and are coaching several skaters here.

"We have two other novice girls (Riley Shin and Emily Chan) and one junior girl (Ashley Shin)," Le said. "It's good to know people around you so you can talk to them. We're a big team."

Carly Berrios, who posted the highest sectionals score when she won at Easterns, hit a triple Lutz and triple flip-double toe combination but faltered on her double Axel. She is fourth with 43.03 points.

"I don't even know what happened," Berrios said with a sigh. "I thought I had it. I was a little close to the boards on my Lutz, but everything else worked out OK."

Cheyenne Taylor, who trains under Frank Carroll in the Los Angeles area, is fifth with 40.17 points.