Ice Network

Third time's a charm for Chan in novice ladies

Nakahara takes silver medal; Ouellette holds on to claim bronze
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Emily Chan built on her lead after the short by performing a near-perfect free skate to Massenet's "Meditation," accruing 98.28 points for the segment. The Texan finished with a score of 149.25 to take the novice ladies title by almost 15 points. -Jay Adeff

Experience paid golden dividends for Emily Chan, who won the novice ladies crown at the 2015 U.S. figure skating championships with a mature and relaxed free skate that helped her eclipse the field by nearly 15 points.

Skating to the romantic "Meditation from Thais," the 17-year-old Texan wove a near-perfect spell from start to finish, opening with two solid jump combinations. She also gained Level 4 on all three of her spins. While her triples, including a toe loop and Salchow, were not the most difficult of the event, her program components score (48.55 points) was by far the highest. Chan earned 98.28 points for her free and, combined with her winning short program, ended the event with 149.25 points.

Victory was sweet after placing ninth in novice last season and sixth in 2013.

"I felt like I performed it well and the audience felt my emotions when I skated," Chan said. "For me, this is a stepping stone. I'm really excited to go junior next season and work harder and have more jumps."

Chan, who is also competing in novice pairs with Misha Mitrofanov, has been carefully budgeting her time the past few days.

"I have to mentally switch over from pairs to singles, from morning to afternoon," she said. "It's been a challenge but I really enjoy doing both."

Olga Ganicheva and Aleksey Letov, who coach Chan at the Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Plano, added that Chan plans to compete as a junior next season.

"We finished novice very strong; that's what was planned," Ganicheva said. "Now she can start a strong career in junior and senior. She has a triple toe-triple toe combination, and triple flip and loop. She needs to learn Lutz."

"The jumps have to be more consistent, and we are just going to put them into the program," Letov said.

Akari Nakahara, a 12-year-old Southern California, did five triples in her free skate to music from Hisaishi's Spirited Away soundtrack, including a solid opening triple flip. Her spins and step sequences were stellar, and the diminutive skater earned 90.65 points and won the silver medal with a 134.63 total.

"I think I tried hard throughout the whole program," Nakahara said. "But I still had a few bobbles. I could always do better."

"For her first time at this level, and skating last and waiting, she kept her composure and handled everything well," said Angela Nikodinov, who coaches Nakahara with her husband, Ivan Dinev. "She basically went out and did what she does on a daily basis in practice. She didn't let herself get overwhelmed by the excitement and emotion."

It is a comeback of sorts for Nakahara, who placed fifth in intermediate in her sectionals last season and missed qualifying for the U.S. junior championships.

"Everything happens for a reason, and I think it was a blessing in disguise," Nikodinov said. "She went home and she was so motivated to start working on those triples. It wasn't good at the moment but it was good at the end."

Nakahara is already looking forward to competing in the junior ranks next season.

"I want to work on triple-triple combos and maybe triple Axel," she said.

The bronze medal went to yet another California skater, Nina Ouellette, who trains in Oakland with Diana Miro and Justin Dillon.

The 12-year-old hit the most difficult combination of the event, a triple Lutz-double toe, as well as a solid triple toe loop and a triple Salchow-double toe. Her only major flaw was popping another intended triple Salchow into a single. She was third in the free skate and third overall with 128.55 points.

"It was definitely not my best, but besides the triple Salchow, I'm okay with it," Ouellette said. "I liked how I landed three triples, which I couldn't do in the beginning of the season. I'm proud of myself for that."

Dillon choreographed her free to selections from Danny Elfman's Alice in Wonderland soundtrack as well as We3Kings' "Red Queen."

"She is the playing the red queen, and the whole portrayal kind of morphs from being powerful and aggressive and landing her elements, to then trying to bring out that character," Dillon said. "It's so helpful when skaters are young to give them strong characters to portray."

Like the other two medalists, Ouellette plans to move up to junior next season.

"It will push her to work harder to improve and get the higher-level elements," Miro said.

"I'll be working on triple loops, and my edges and triple-triples," said Ouellette.

Anna Grace Davidson, fourth after the short, held that position after landing three triples in her free skate to music from Cats. The highlight of her program was a showy step sequence that played to the crowd.

"I could have done better, but I was happy with it," the 14-year-old said. "I was trying to get into it and enjoy it."

Lisa Kriley, who coaches Davidson in Salt Lake City, thinks the performance is a major milestone for her skater.

"She was intermediate champion (in 2013), and she wasn't able to compete for almost two years," Kriley said. "She was dealing with Osgood-Schlatter disease (a painful knee condition) and other injuries. I'm so happy for her getting back out there and doing so well in novice."