Ice Network

McNamara, Carpenter ride 'Phantom' to dance title

WISA claims first-ever U.S. junior crown; Pogrebinsky, Benoit win bronze
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After winning a bronze and two silvers in the last three years at the U.S. championships, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter finally reached the top step of the junior dance podium. The Wheaton Ice Skating Academy representatives took the title with a score of 155.39. -Jay Adeff

Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter are far from the first skaters to perform to music from The Phantom of the Opera, but they gain new inspiration from it every day.

"When we hear it, it makes us want to fly across the ice," McNamara, 15, said. "We want to skate to something we never get tired of, that sparks us deep inside."

"We don't believe that if music is used once, that means it is used up," Carpenter, 18, said. "We love this music with as much passion as we did the first time we heard it. Phantom is so full of energy and passion, there is so much that can be expressed."

That passion served the ice dancers well Friday, when they hit nearly every crescendo of "Music of the Night" to win the junior ice dance title at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with 155.39 points, defeating their longtime training partners Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons by more than 10 points.

McNamara and Carpenter used interesting transitions throughout their Phantom free dance, including a swinging entrance into a combination spin that balanced McNamara in a low position with her skate resting on her partner's foot. Their three-part twizzle wove in and out across the ice, yet maintained unison, and their straight line lift was timed perfectly to their music. All told, they gained four Level 4 elements.

"We're very happy and excited to come in first here," Carpenter said. "Four years ago (in Greensboro) was our first nationals at the junior level, and this brings back old memories. To win where we started has felt great for both of us."

"They were so committed to the Phantom story," said Alexei Kiliakov, who coaches the team with Elena Novak and Dimytri Ilyn. "They traveled to New York twice to see the show on Broadway, and I think that helped their interpretation quite a bit."

This junior title is the first won by a team from the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (WISA), the Rockville, Maryland, ice dance school that has produced countless juvenile, intermediate and novice medalists, including the juvenile and novice ice dance champions crowned this week.

"Last two years, we were third (in junior), and this time we are first and second, so the kids are very happy and we are very proud," said Kiliakov, one of the WISA founders.

The Parsons siblings' free dance to selections from Notre-Dame de Paris was also marked by intricate transitions, including a combination spin culminating in Rachel's layback that went directly into steps. The flip-over entrance into their straight line lift was especially impressive, but they lost points when Rachel had a slight slip during the diagonal steps. They ended with 144.98 points.

"We came out and accomplished what we set out to do," Michael, 19, said. "Things could have gone better, but you can always improve your program."

Both McNamara and Carpenter, as well as the Parsons siblings, began their ice dance careers at WISA about a decade ago. All four skaters thrive in the school's family atmosphere.

"We are all lucky to have each other," Carpenter said. "We try to always set examples for the younger skaters, like the novice champions, Carol [Green] and Gordon [Green]. We look back and see ourselves in them, when we were younger. It's a positive atmosphere, and we all learn and grow."

Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit, a tall, well-matched couple from Igor Shpilband's school in Novi, Michigan, won bronze with an elegant free dance to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Their long lines helped create compelling positions in their pairs spin and lifts, and their three-part twizzles were well executed. They earned 144.51 points overall.

"We are really happy with how everything went today," Benoit, 19, said. "We definitely did not expect to be here when we teamed up nine months ago, when we started skating together. We had a blast today."

Benoit added that Shpilband and his associates, including Greg Zuerlein, Adrienne Lenda and Fabian Bourzat, as well as the ballroom and lift specialists Shpilband invites to the rink, have opened their eyes to new possibilities.

"I was incredibly happy where I was before, but you move into something you see through a crack in the door, and then the door opens wide and it's amazing what can be brought to you by a great coaching staff," he said.

Two other teams from Novi, Holly Moore and Daniel Klaber, and Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko, placed fourth and fifth, respectively.