Ice Network

Liu lands triple flip-triple toe, leads junior ladies

Zhang secures second; Izzo, Kalyan solidify third, fourth, respectively
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Alysa Liu won a U.S. title on the intermediate level in 2016, and after achieving 63.83 points for her "Spanish Flame" short, the St. Moritz ISC representative -- who earned an additional 10.66 points for her triple flip-triple toe -- finds herself with a great opportunity to win another gold medal after finishing tops in the segment. -Jay Adeff

Just minutes after the Times Square ball dropped in midtown Manhattan to ring in 2018, Alysa Liu made some noise of her own 3,000 miles away, delivering a clean program to grab a surprising 6.86-point lead in the junior ladies event at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California.

"It actually is the best (short) of my season," the bubbly 12-year-old said. "I'm really proud of myself, because what I've been practicing for this entire year finally showed at nationals."

Liu, who hails from nearby Oakland, skated like she had little to lose. The youngest skater in the field lit a fire with her short to Maxime Rodriguez's "Spanish Flame," reeling off a clean triple flip-triple toe loop combination and triple lutz, as well as three Level 4 spins to earn 63.83 points.

"I love challenging myself with older skaters," Liu said. "That shows the world no matter what age you are, you can still be at the top."

The precocious Liu, featured in several Bay area articles and video features, happily held court with reporters and loudly blew her new year's noisemaker at the free skate draw.

"She loves to perform for the audience and that's awesome," her father, Arthur Liu, said. "She's happy when she's skating and she shows that. Everything her coach teaches her, she tries a hundred times until it's perfection."

"She's been practicing like that every day, and I'm glad she could show everyone that program at nationals," Laura Lipetsky, who has coached Alysa for nearly seven years, said. "She's trained and ready. She's having fun."

Emily Zhang performed a lyrical program, set to Joe Hisaishi's "Castle in the Sky," that was punctuated by big jumps -- including a triple flip-triple toe and a triple lutz -- as well as a powerful Level 4 step sequence. Her 56.97 points puts her in second place heading into the free skate.

"There were so many people watching, they gave me such energy and such a positive vibe," Zhang said of the crowded Solar4America Ice arena. "The jumps felt really good today. I would normally practice like this and I just went out and did it."

The 14-year-old Zhang, fourth at the intermediate level last season, skipped the novice level to compete as a junior this season.

"It was a decision made toward the end of summer when we saw she could be competitive with her scores," Chris Conte, who coaches Zhang in Baltimore, Maryland, said. "She won the Liberty summer competition with over 100 points in the long, so we knew she was competitive with juniors."

"That was a really big step forward," Zhang said. "Intermediate went really well and I wanted to challenge myself."

Gabbie Izzo, a 16-year-old who trains in the Boston area under Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, skated a mature and stylish short to "Tu Pálida Voz" by Lidia Borda that included a triple lutz and a triple loop-double toe combination, as well as superb spins. She earned 55.19 points, which was good for third place.

"It was really fun to be out there, and it's nice to work hard every day and have it come forward when it needs to," Izzo said. "It was definitely a personal best for my short."

Unlike many skaters, the 16-year-old Boston Latin School student prefers spinning to jumping.

"I love spinning," she said. "A lot of time is devoted to running programs and getting them as good as they can be, and then at least once a week I have a session just devoted to spinning."

Pooja Kalyan, a student of Alexander Ouriashev, hit a solid triple toe-triple toe combination and closed her short to Sarah Brightman's rendition of "Dreamers" with a stunning layback spin. She is fourth with 54.55 points.

Hanna Harrell, one of the pre-event favorites, fell on a triple lutz and sits fifth with 52.10 points.