Ice Network

Hauer, Starr overwhelm field to win juvenile dance

Pattern dance marks prove to be difference in determining medals
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Jenna Hauer and Benjamin Starr finished first in all three phases of the competition on their way to capturing the juvenile dance title with a total score of 83.84. -Jay Adeff

Jenna Hauer and Benjamin Starr's light and charming free dance to the soundtrack of the romantic 2011 French film The Artist won high praise from judges Monday at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, earning the couple 42.86 points and helping them crush the competition on their way to winning the juvenile dance title.

When added to their scores from the two pattern dances, the Connecticut-based skaters ended with 83.84 points, putting them more than 14 points clear of their closest competitors.

"I felt it was amazing today," an exuberant Starr, 13, said. "The improvement over sectionals was enormous, and I'm very proud of Jenna."

"It was definitely our best skate this season," a more subdued, but still happy, Hauer, 12, said.

The playful yet poignant score of The Artist helped highlight some solid elements, including two Level 4 lifts and a Level 4 twizzle sequence.

"I feel like the music really worked for the kids because it told a story," the team's coach, Svetlana Kulikova, said. "When you choose a soundtrack, you can have some slow selections and fast selections, and they are all related to each other and it feels like a cohesive whole."

Teamed in early June 2017 by Kulikova, who trains the couple with Denys Latyshev, the youngsters have been battle tested by a busy competition and training schedule.

"We definitely had to be very speedy doing the choreography," Kulikova said. "They skated (together) for about 10 days, and then we went to Chesapeake ice dance camp and three weeks later to Lake Placid (Ice Dance Championships). Jenna did solo (dance) in Lake Placid and won that, and then Ben competed (singles) in regionals; there was a lot going on. It was good for them to learn how to perform and cope with a lot of things."

"They are a very good team, they support each other, and that's what they did here today," Latyshev said.

Many couples below Hauer and Starr finished with similar free dance scores, and pattern dance totals ended up determining medals.

Zoe Sensenbrenner and Matthew Sperry performed a stylish free dance to music from Zorba the Greek, one that was highlighted by a well-executed Level 4 straight line lift. Although their 34.81 points put them fourth in the segment, the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (WISA) products picked up the silver (69.51 points).

"The lifts went well today," Sperry, 15, said. "It was lots of fun."

"The twizzles were good, too, but we could have had a higher level," Sensenbrenner, 11, said.

Alexei Kiliakov, one of the founders of WISA, praised Sensenbrenner and Sperry for how quickly they have gelled.

"This is a brand new team, this is their first season, and they did a great improvement from scratch," he said. "Everyone is unique, and we try to help them give everything they have. Matthew is a very emotional young man, in a good way, and Zoe is a very classy young lady."

Fittingly, Kristina Bland and Gabriel Francis, who train at the Detroit Skating Club in Anjelika Krylova's group, performed their free dance to a Motown medley featuring Michael Jackson hits. They placed sixth in the free, but on the strrength of their pattern dance scores, they took the bronze medal with 68.59 total points.

The youngsters belonged to the same synchronized skating team, and paired up to do ice dance two years ago.

"I had a lot of fun, and I tried my best," Bland, 13, said. "We pushed our hardest."

"The lifts were good," Francis, 14, said. "She knows she can trust me, and I trust her, so we work together well."

Krylova, who choreographed the routine, advocates lighter music for younger skaters.

"At this level, it's fun to do some dancey music," Krylova said. "Some of the senior music is too boring, classical and slow. This makes it more fun for the audience to watch."

Boston skaters Emma L'Esperance and Mika Amdour gained third place in the free dance and finished fourth overall.