Ice Network

Liu leads after impressive novice ladies short

Huang on Liu's heels entering free skate; Cui, Rich round out top four
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Alysa Liu won the U.S. intermediate title last season, and she's in position to top the novice ladies field in Kansas City. The Oakland-based skater took first place in the short program Monday, netting 48.89 points for her "Puttin' on the Ritz" routine. -Jay Adeff

Triple-triple combinations, triple flips and triple lutzes were flying during the novice ladies short program at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Monday, with most of the 12 entrants attempting one or more of the difficult elements.

"I think this is the best group of novices I've seen, ever," veteran coach Tammy Gambill said. "They are so strong, and they are really fierce. It's great for the U.S. to have so many young kids coming up with so much potential."

Coaches credited this overall increase in technical difficulty to U.S. Figure Skating's decision in May 2015 to award bonus points for novice skaters' triple-triple combinations as well as for each different triple jump. The bonus system, which was designed to help U.S. skaters better compete with Russian and Japanese athletes on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, awards extra points if a triple jump is clean or under-rotated.

"The practices for these novice girls were amazing; there were five or six girls with triple-triples, and all five triples," Chicago-area coach Alex Ouriashev said. "It's a really big improvement. The American girls are getting very strong."

Alysa Liu, a diminutive 11-year-old powerhouse, led the talented pack after hitting a triple lutz-triple toe combination out of a split jump as well as a triple flip in her energetic "Puttin' on the Ritz" short. Her 48.89 points gave her a 1.22-point lead, but the top five skaters stand only about a point and a half apart entering the free skate.

The program is familiar: Liu used it last year to become the youngest-ever winner of the intermediate title.

"I've been through three short programs this season trying to find one that really fit me, and so we decided to just go back to it," the exuberant youngster said. "And it worked. Of course, we added much harder jumps."

The second jump of Liu's triple-triple combination was deemed under-rotated, but she thinks she can improve on it in Tuesday's free skate.

"I feel like I can do a bit better, because at sectionals I also under-rotated in the short program, but in the long program, I got it clean," she said. "I just need to work on it more."

Laura Lipetsky, who coaches Liu in Oakland, California, thinks triple-triple combinations are required to win a novice medal this season.

"She went out there and did what we've been practicing all season," Lipetsky said. "You have to be competitive, so we went for the triple-triple. She has two triple-triples, including a triple flip-half loop-triple salchow, planned for the free skate."

Colorado Springs-based Angelina Huang sits second after landing a triple flip-double toe and a triple lutz in her short to jazzy music from the Who Framed Roger Rabbit soundtrack, choreographed by Massimo Scali and Catarina Lindgren.

"It's been a while since I've done a clean short and so I'm pretty happy," Huang, 14, said. "I picked this music because I wanted to get the audience and the judges engaged, and show my personality."

"She has been running clean short programs daily," Huang's coach, Damon Allen, said. "She's done the hard work and that helped her feel confident when she took the ice. We've really worked on polishing the program, to get that components mark a bit higher."

Allen, too, credits the bonus system with encouraging young skaters to develop tougher jumps.

"I really feel like some of our novices are stronger than our juniors at the moment," Allen said. "I think it will really help us field a stronger (Junior Grand Prix) team in the future."

Ting Cui, who trains in Baltimore, Maryland, under Chris Conte, is in third place with 47.63 points. She included a triple toe-triple toe in her short to the majestic "Yellow River Concerto," although her second jump was judged under-rotated.

"I really like skating to 'Yellow River Concerto' because I can really feel the music throughout the program," Cui said. "I like how big the music is and how mature it feels."

Credit Alyssa Rich with good timing: The 13-year-old hit her first triple lutz ever in competition in her short to "Colors of the Wind." She sits fourth with 47.47 points.

"That's a brand new jump for her," said Ann Brumbaugh, who coaches the skater with Ben Shroats in Dallas, Texas. "We wanted to push the envelope. This is the first generation of the jump bonus, and we're seeing what it's done for juveniles through novices. This is the toughest group of novices I've ever seen. Competing here is something to be proud of, for sure."