Two novice titles decided at Eastern Sectionals

Novice ladies and pairs make their way to nationals

Gold medalist Holly Alexander.
Gold medalist Holly Alexander. (Three Oaks Photography)


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(11/16/2007) - The 2008 Eastern Sectional novice ladies and pairs champions were crowned earlier Friday in Wake Forest, N.C. There was a tight battle among the ladies, while the favorites dominated the pairs competition, and eight berths to the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships were earned.

Alexander Aces Eastern Novice Ladies

Holly Alexander (University of Delaware FSC) clinched the Eastern Sectional novice ladies crown with a solid free skate to "La Grande Melody."

Although Alexander was only fourth in the second long program round, her total score of 101.76 was high enough to hold on to the top spot. She was also the only competitor of the group to break the 100-point mark.

"I'm really happy and looking forward to nationals," said the 13-year-old.

Alexander hit triple Salchow-double toe and double Axel-double toe combos, as well as another double Axel. Her only jumping flaw was a single toe out of a double flip. Her spins were fast, with well-defined positions, and the program had excellent speed and transitions.

Felicia Zhang (SC of New York) wound up second with a final point tally of 99.82.

Skating to Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade," the balletic Zhang portrayed the title character with power and fluidity. Although she was seventh in the free skate, she maintained her second place standing due to some placement shifts in the latter event and her substantial lead ahead of third place after the short program.

"I really wanted to make nationals, and I'm excited that I did," said Zhang, who is 14 years old. "I think I could have skated better, but I guess now all I need to think about is preparing for nationals."

Gretchen Donlan (SC of Boston) was third with a score of 97.84. Her rendition of "The Nutcracker" had immediacy and elegance; she seemed to morph into the central role in seamless fashion.

Donlan's layback was a standout element, along with her connecting steps. She hit a double Axel, but omitted the double toe and other doubles. She did fall, however, on a second double Axel.

"I could have skated better, I think, but I am so excited about making nationals. This has been a good competition, and I'm having a really good time," said Donlan, who was laughing and hanging out with her fellow competitors after the event.

Kendall Wyckoff (Vermont SC) staged the biggest comeback of the day, pulling up from ninth after the short to fourth overall by winning the free skate with her Romeo and Juliet routine. She was awarded a total point score of 94.27.

"I am so happy; I thought I might end up in the middle in the final marks, so when I found out how I did, I was really surprised and excited," said Wyckoff. "I can't wait to go to nationals."

Wyckoff's program was lyrical, strong and athletic. Her jumps had wonderful air and power, and her toughest jumps -- including a double Axel-double toe and double Lutz combination -- were after the program's midway point. She did, however, lose one point for finishing the program a bit behind the music.

All of the top-four finishers are first-year novices, although they seem to be seasoned high-level competitors. Their well-developed programs were choreographed to fit the specifications of the International Judging System without sacrificing any artistry.

"This has been an excellent competition; the skating was of a great quality," said Serguei Koutnetsov, coach of Samantha Veloso (Washington FSC), who was fifth with a score of 93.66.

"The performances were about the programs, and not just the elements." (By Liz Leamy, special to

Favorites Seal the Deal in Novice Pairs

By Lynn Rutherford Odds-on favorites Marissa Castelli (Smithfield FSC) and Simon Shnapir (Colonial FSC) backed up their winning short program with a solid free skate to Gladiator, taking the Eastern novice pair title by more than 18 points.

"It went pretty well; we're happy," Shnapir, 20, said. "Both of our programs are fairly new, and we'll need a lot more run-throughs before nationals."

Castelli and Shnapir opened with a superb level-four Axel lasso lift, with Castelli in a strong position (+1.50 Grade of Execution) and Shnapir supporting her with one arm. Their side-by-side double loops and split double twist were solid, but their back outside death spiral was a bit shaky and gained only a score of level one (-.88 GOE). The couple landed two throws: a triple Salchow (-.88 GOE) and double loop (+.25 GOE).

"We enjoyed it; it was the best skate we've had so far," Castelli, 17, said. "We want to improve our side-by-side spins, our death spiral, and maybe add more variations to our lifts."

Shnapir has something very specific he'd like to enhance.

"I really need to improve my flexibility on the spirals," said the 6'4" skater. "Her flexibility exceeds mine by fivefold."

Lauren Farr (Sun Valley FSC) and John Kern (SC of Wilmington) placed second with an elegant program to Spartacus that promises well for the future.

The couple, together for just three months, had two level-four lifts, as well as two solid throw doubles. Other elements were less successful. Farr fell on an intended double flip combination, and the team was unable to complete their final move, a forward inside death spiral.

"I'm really happy we did both lifts," the 20-year-old Kern, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, said. "The jump sequence at the end is usually a strong element for us, so we're not worried about it for the future."

"It went well, considering we have never competed before," the 17-year-old Farr, who is finishing high school via correspondence courses, added.

Farr and Kern were second in the free and second overall with 92.40 points. Jennifer Sulc (Shaker FSC) and Steven Aviram (SC of New York) climbed from fourth place in the short to third in the free skate and third overall, with 74.60 points total. Molly Moscowitz (Colonial SC of Pennsylvania) and Tyler Harris (Princeton SC) grabbed the fourth and final spot for the 2008 U.S. Championships with 73.81 points. (By Lynn Rutherford, special to