Ice Network

Serafini rallies to win junior title at Challenge Skate

U.S. novice champion Le takes silver medal; Bronze for Rydberg
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The junior ladies medalists (L-R): Silver medalist Vivian Le, gold medalist Olivia Serafini and bronze medalist Paige Rydberg. -Jay Adeff

When Olivia Serafini is having a tough practice session, she knows where to turn for words of encouragement: Ashley Wagner and Adam Rippon.

The 17-year-old upstate New York native, who placed eighth in junior at the 2014 U.S. Championships, moved to Southern California in mid-April with her mom and older sister to train under Rafael Arutunian and his wife, Vera, at Artesia's East West Ice Palace.

Since then, she's been hard at work perfecting her jumps and working on the components side of her skating with choreographer Karen Kwan-Oppegard.

"Ashley and Adam are both really good to train with," Serafini said. "I've never really had skaters I could look up to before. They both wished me great luck and told me I'm with a really great team, and it just takes time to get used to changes, but it will all work out."

Wagner and Rippon were right: Serafini climbed from sixth after the short program to win the junior title at the 2014 U.S. Novice and Junior Challenge Skate in Salt Lake City on Sunday by a point.

Skating her program, which was choreographed by Kwan-Oppegard, to a piano medley that included selections from The Piano and The Lord of the Rings, Serafini opened with three combinations, including triple flip-double toe and double Axel-triple toe. The program included five more triples, and although she had a few step-outs and a downgrade, her 91.07 points easily won the free skate. She took gold with 137.21 points.

"We've been working really hard this summer, trying to control my jumps more and make them more consistent," Serafini said. "I started out pretty strong with my opening jump, and for the rest I wanted to go for everything and have no regrets when I finished."

"She did a very clean first part of the program, and even though it was difficult with the altitude, she tried to be strong to the end and did all of her jumps," Vera Arutunian said.

Kwan-Oppegard is also pleased with Serafini's efforts.

"She has grown so tremendously in her technical aspect, we want to grow her artistic side," Kwan-Oppegard said. "She is in a great environment; we have a great team motivation everywhere you look."

U.S. novice champion Vivian Le, who led after the short, won silver with a program that opened with a solid, fully rotated attempt at a triple Lutz-triple toe that had a step-out at the end. She fell on two normally reliable jumps, her triple Lutz and triple toe, but her speed and spins were fine as ever, and she closed with a stunning layback combination.

Le placed second in the free and second overall with 136.17 points.

"It was an OK skate, I'm glad I went for my triple-triple," the 14-year-old said. "I work on it a lot and I really want to land it."

The teen trains with Aleksey Letov and Olga Ganicheva, who have built a successful competitive program at the Dr. Pepper Star Center in Plano, Texas, near Dallas. Last season, the couple brought four skaters to the U.S. championships in Boston.

Several of Le's training mates competed at the Challenge Skate, including Emily Chan (seventh in juniors) and Riley Shin (fourth in novice). Riley's big sister, Ashley, was seventh at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic.

"We have a lot of strong skaters at each level, and they compete against each other every day, two sessions a day," Ganicheva said. "We provide training in the world-level style, with ballet classes, off-ice training and stroking and components' classes.

"We have nine learn-to-skate classes each week, and our goal is to develop skaters from our learn-to-skate classes, right up to the senior level."

Bronze medalist Paige Rydberg skated her most ambitious free to date, landing a double Axel-triple toe combination as well as a triple loop in her stylish program to a Latin medley, choreographed by Scott Brown and Mary Beth Marley. She was third in the free and earned 135.34 points overall.

"It's a new program for me. We just added the triple loop and Axel-toe, so I'm happy I got those accomplished," Rydberg, 14, said.

"Every competition this season, we've taken the program up a notch, and at this competition, we took it up a big notch," said Rydberg's coach, Mary Alice Antensteiner, who trains the skater at the Darien Sportsplex in Darien, Illinois.

"We will be working on refining all the little details in the program -- the landing positions, the spins, the step sequences, the edge on the Lutz -- to prepare for the qualifying season starting in a couple of weeks."