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Hood, Enright, Bramante close in on USJC gold

Gregarious skater sits in first after short program

Lexie Hood's short program performance placed her one step closer to the intermediate title.
Lexie Hood's short program performance placed her one step closer to the intermediate title. (Jay Adeff)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(11/30/2007) - Scott Brown's advice to Lexie Hood of the Stars FSC of Texas was simple. He told her "not to be beige" when she skated the program he choreographed for her.

Hood was anything but beige Friday morning at the U.S. Junior Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she took the lead in the 18-skater field after the intermediate ladies short program. The effervescent Hood scored 32.25 points, putting her ahead of second-place Keilani-Lyn Rudderham, representing the Skating Club of Boston, and third-place Lauren Dinh of Broadmoor Skating Club. They amassed 31.51 and 30.35 points, respectively.

Hood landed a double Lutz-double loop combination, a double Axel and a double flip in her "Sweet Charity" program. Her two spins were both graded level threes and her Grades of Execution (GOEs) were all zero or better.

Last year, skating in juvenile, Hood finished ninth in her qualifying round at the U.S. Junior Championships and failed to reach the final. Now she's leading the intermediate competition with only the free skate standing between her and a U.S. title.

She attributes her improvement to her new coach, Cheryl Pascarelli.

"She has a way of explaining things that make them easy to understand," Hood said.

Hood, who overflows with personality, did not look the least bit hesitant before, during or after her skate.

"I have a good way of handling my nerves," she said.

"My short program's pretty solid and easy for me," Hood continued. "With this being my last time skating it, I really wanted to go fast and show off."

Rudderham, 12th in juvenile a year ago, landed a double Axel and a double Lutz-double loop combination to start off her "Swan Lake" program. She also had a spin graded level four, another graded level three and a straight line step sequence that was awarded level three as well. The only slip in her program was her double flip, for which she received a GOE of -0.6.

"Landing the double Axel was really great because I've been struggling with it," Rudderham said. "I was very relieved to land the double Lutz-double loop. I don't normally land it; it's usually a flutz."

Rudderham, one of four skaters in the intermediate ladies final coached by Mark Mitchell, has a self-effacing sense of humor.

"I love the choreography from Mark and Lisa [Langley]. They help bring out the ballerina that I'm not," Rudderham joked. "I took ballet, but I've been known to not use it."

Dinh, currently in third place, skated to a piece of Spanish classical music. She landed all her jumps (double Lutz-double toe, double Axel, double flip), but her circular step sequence was graded level one. The ladies free skate starts Saturday at 10:45 a.m.

Intermediate Compulsory Dance 1 & 2

Susan Enright and Michael Bramante (SC of Boston) won both intermediate compulsory dances and lead the competition heading into Saturday's free dance. The team, which finished fifth in juvenile last year, is coached by Justin Pekarek and Hilary Gibbons.

Skating the foxtrot in the first compulsory dance, Enright and Bramante edged Joylyn Yang and Jean-Luc Baker (Seattle SC), the 2007 U.S. juvenile champions, 22.10-21.71. The margin in the second compulsory dance, the American waltz, was even slimmer, with the Bostonians coming out on top, 22.24-21.95. Overall, Enright and Bramante lead Yang and Baker, 44.34-43.66.

The brother-and-sister team of Taylor Elliott and Zachary Elliott (Stars FSC of Texas) are comfortably in third with a score of 42.61.

The leaders were pleased with their performance but admitted it is a challenge competing at 4,300 feet above sea level.

"We skated our best since we got here," Bramante said. "It's different skating here [with the altitude] than it is in Boston."

Asked which of the compulsory dances they prefer, they agreed the fox-trot is their favorite of the two.

"The only thing I don't like is the four patterns," Bramante said.

Yang and Baker are just 11 and 14, respectively, and their stature makes them appear even younger, but on the ice they project a maturity well beyond their years. "We try to present and stand up. We try to look tall," Yang said.

Baker echoed that, saying, "We look our oldest as much as we can. We skate big."

Yang and Baker "looked tall" and "skated big" in both segments, which they each like for their own reasons.

"The foxtrot is a nice dance for us. It's really flowy, subtle," Baker said. "It allows us to relate to each other."

Yang leans toward the American: "It makes you excited and happy. It makes you want to smile."

The duo has been together just a year and a half, but already they have a U.S. title to their credit, with a second U.S. medal looking likely.

The best story in the top three belongs to the Elliotts. This is their fifth year competing at the U.S. Junior Championships, where they captured juvenile bronze in 2006. There's always been a small problem with the team, however.

Until this year, he's been shorter than her. Not anymore.

In the last year, he's shot up six inches and packed on 50 pounds. ("A lot of Chipotle," Taylor quipped, to which Zachary retorted, "We have a great personal trainer back home.") He now stands 5 9-1/2 and she's 5-6.

"This is the first year where I'm looking up at him," Taylor said.

The free dance begins Saturday at 2:45.