The Inside Edge: Aaron, Settlage announce splitU.S. pair parts ways after seven years together; Hicks changes coaches
Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage, winners of the pewter medal at each of the last two U.S. championships, have ended their partnership. Settlage said he plans to continue competing and will actively search for a new partner, while Aaron will return home to Arizona and consider her options for the future.
"I want to stay in the sport," Settlage said. "I'm planning to stay in Colorado, continue training with Dalilah [Sappenfield], and in the meantime I'll keep working on pair technique, jumps and strengthening. While I would like to compete in the coming season, I don't know if it's a realistic idea."
"I'm still open to see if there's any opportunity for my skating career," Aaron said. "I haven't been home for a long time. I'm going to see what happens. I'll take some time off -- I definitely need time to breathe."
Aaron and Settlage teamed up in 2010 and went on to win the U.S. novice crown in 2011 and the U.S. junior title in 2014. The pair, who trained with Dalilah Sappenfield in Colorado Springs, were known for their balletic style.
In telephone interviews, each spoke highly of the other.
"I'm very thankful for all the experiences I've been through with Maddie," Settlage said. "Nothing will ever take away from all the things we accomplished together. I can't express how grateful I am, and I have no regrets at all. In the end, it was just a difference in training."
"A partnership is two people, and they have to get along and agree, and sometimes they don't always see eye to eye," Aaron said. "We're good friends, and we'll always remain so. Max and I respect each other so much, and I wish him the best in whatever he decides to do."
Both skaters said that competing on the Grand Prix circuit was a highlight for them. They finished fifth at Skate America in 2014 and fourth at Skate Canada that same year.
"I want to thank everyone who has helped and supported us along the way," Aaron said. "We skated together for seven years, so it was a long journey. We learned a lot about ourselves and what it's like to be a high-level athlete."
Aaron is, of course, the younger sister of Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion and a four-time U.S. medalist. Maddie said she will miss training with her brother in Colorado.
"I'm sad to leave him and not see him every day," she said. "But I'm one of his biggest fans, and I'm always there if he needs me. I'm hoping for so much more from him."
Aaron is a junior at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, majoring in exercise science; now, she said, she might transfer to Arizona State University. She plans to follow her parents into the medical field but hasn't decided exactly what path she'll take.
Recently, Settlage has made a name for himself as a skilful cartoonist. His long-term goal is to become a professional artist of some sort.
"I draw for an hour or two every day," he said. "I'm taking on a lot of commission work. I can't divulge details, but I have things coming up. I'm looking forward to the future, finding a career in art. Everything U.S. Figure Skating has done for me has helped -- it looks good in the portfolio."
Hicks seeks 'new perspective' with Sand
Last season was a roller coaster for Courtney Hicks.
The Californian won her first Grand Prix medal in November, a silver at the NHK Trophy, but she also finished a career-worst ninth at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. So last March she made the difficult decision to leave her longtime coaches, Alex Chang and Jere Michael.
"I love Alex and Jere -- they'd done so much for me -- but I've been with them a while and we kind of got stuck going around the same issues all the time," Hicks said. "They know all my strengths and weaknesses, and I kind of needed a new perspective."
Hicks, who has always lived and trained in the Los Angeles area, has taken lessons from John Nicks at the Aliso Viejo Ice Palace for years. She spent several months working with the 87-year-old skating guru this spring, and last week she began working with Nicks' longtime colleague, Todd Sand, as her main coach.
"Todd is very good at making sure I don't get too freaked out at myself," Hicks said. "Sometimes if I miss a jump I don't know what's wrong and I start making more mistakes. He's very calm and very steady; he keeps me from getting into a frenzy on the ice. It's when I don't know what's going wrong with my jumps that I get panicked."
Hicks and Sand are well acquainted with each other.
"I've known Courtney since she was a little girl. She's trained in our rink for a long time," Sand said. "I'm really excited to work with her, and I think we can do some good things. The main thing is just to have her well trained and give her confidence. Hopefully, she understands how good she really is."
Known for her powerful jumps, Hicks has struggled to raise her component scores over the years.
"Courtney has worked really hard on her second mark," Sand said. "She's an incredibly powerful skater -- a strong jumper and a strong spinner, too. Sometimes she overpowers herself. Her power is there without trying; she doesn't need to overdo anything. She needs to just trust her technique and relax."
On top of working on the artistic quality of her skating, Hicks plans to up her technical content this season. She said she would like to incorporate a new triple-triple combination into her repertoire, possibly a triple flip-triple loop.
For her 2016-17 competitive programs, Hicks is staying with the two choreographers she worked with last season. Rohene Ward put together her short, to music from the movie Maleficent, and Jonathan Cassar did her free skate, to The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
In the free, Hicks says she will be "more or less" playing the character of the gypsy Esmeralda.
"It's more an emotional journey," she said. "I love the cut. It's a really interesting story."
She said that Cassar has been drilling her on expression and performance.
"Jonathan is really working on getting me to not just hear the music and skate to it -- he's getting me to relate to the music so my expression and performance comes more naturally, getting me to where I actually feel," she said.
In the short, Hicks is channeling the evil fairy from the Sleeping Beauty story. She says that Ward is pushing her in new directions.
"Rohene is such an artist, he comes up with totally different stuff for me that I never thought I'd do," she said. "The program is definitely dramatic. I really like it because it's dark and powerful, and it suits my skating style so well. It's easy for me to try and portray stronger characters."
Hicks had planned to compete at the Glacier Falls Summer Classic last week, but she was sidelined after having her wisdom teeth pulled. She is looking forward to participating in Champs Camp this month as well as competing at her two Grand Prix assignments, Cup of China and Rostelecom Cup.
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