Ice Network

Emotions run as Aaron, Settlage rule junior pairs

Liu, Perini maintain hold on second place; Bronze goes to Pearce, Pacini
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Last season, Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage led the junior pairs event after the short but faltered in the free, settling for the bronze medal. Not so this time, as they easily won the segment and the gold. -Jay Adeff

Max Settlage shed a few tears as he embraced coach Dalilah Sappenfield after he and longtime partner Madeline Aaron captured the junior pairs title Friday afternoon at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

For the Colorado Springs-based team that has experienced its share of ups and downs, the victory means everything.

"I felt like we really worked hard for this one," said Settlage, who, with Aaron, won the 2011 novice title and has had mixed results in the junior ranks.

"It's definitely been a journey," Aaron added. "Every year has been a learning experience."

Chelsea Liu and Devin Perini of California continue to show improvement, finishing with the silver medal. AnnaMarie Pearce and Jason Pacini earned the bronze medal, and Elise Middleton and Anthony Evans secured the pewter. The silver, bronze and pewter medalists are all rink mates in California.

Aaron, 19, and Settlage, 21, arrived in Boston trying to rectify a disappointing finish at the 2013 U.S. Championships in Omaha, Neb., where they led after the short program, only to make numerous mistakes in the free skate and settle for the bronze.

This season has been about them remaining calm when things don't go well, having fun and performing. They did just that in Boston.

Skating to "Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia" by Aram Khachaturian, Aaron and Settlage demonstrated good speed and flow throughout the program, but they did hit a couple of speed bumps early on when she put a hand down on a throw triple loop and he stepped out of the landing on a side-by-side triple Salchow.

"It was an accomplishment in itself that we were able to make mistakes and keep going and recover quickly and just fight on everything," Aaron said. "We've been training better than that, but with a little bit of nerves, it changes things a bit. For us, that was the best we've competed in a while."

The team won both segments of the competition and finished with 160.67 points.

"Today was about staying in moment, being calm, resetting after every element, letting it go and not getting wound up about mistakes," Sappenfield said. "They kept fighting through the whole program, and their training really paid off."

Sappenfield, who has coached five U.S. junior pairs champions, credited sports psychologist Suzie Riewald with helping the team overcome its mental demons.

Aaron and Settlage also gave props to Aaron's brother, Max, the 2013 U.S. champion, who trains at the same rink as they do.

"We draw from the energy he gives off," Settlage said. "We'll see him do multiple programs and that will inspire us to work just as hard and match that effort."

Liu, 14, and Perini, 20, pewter medalists in the junior division last year, placed second in both segments of the competition and finished with a score of 144.82 points. Their performance was to "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen.

"There were a couple of hiccups in there, but I thought we've improved upon the program as a whole with another year together," Perini said. "One of our goals was to make junior worlds, and I think we might have done that. We have continued to build a connection, which is a huge thing."

Liu and Perini have spent the last four seasons together, winning the novice title in 2012.

"It's a process," coach Todd Sand said. "We've talked to them about the building blocks of becoming a strong senior team. Sure, they would have loved to have won, but that wasn't really a goal. The goal was to show that they've improved and to skate a good, strong program. There's a lot of potential there for the future."

Pearce, 20, and Pacini, 23, finished fifth in the free skate but held on to claim the bronze medal with 139.32 points. They had falls on their double Axel and throw triple Salchow.

The team, though, was happy to have been able to compete this season, considering a rash of injuries that prevented them from practicing a lot.

"Just being able to go out there and attempt everything was a big accomplishment for us," Pacini said.

Pacini, who broke his ankle last summer, will undergo the first of two hip surgeries in January.

"I'll probably be taking next year off," he said.

Middleton, 14, and Evans, 21, finished fourth in both segments of the competition, scoring 136.64 points.

"We didn't have any expectations coming into the event," Evans said. "We just wanted to go and have fun, and we finished fourth. We're excited and happy about that."

Evans, who moved last year to California from Dallas to train with Middleton, will undergo surgery for a torn labrum in the next several weeks.

"I tore it this summer, and we talked about calling it quits and getting a headstart on next year," Evans said, "But I wanted to push and not miss the season."

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