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Chicago Jazz run away with junior gold

Darken's crew confident as they prep for Challenge Cup

The Chicago Jazz earned a total of 116.99 points.
The Chicago Jazz earned a total of 116.99 points. (Paul Harvath)

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By Rebecca Staed, special to icenetwork.com
(02/23/2008) - The Chicago Jazz junior team clinched a gold medal at the 2008 U.S. Synchronized Skating Team Championships with their stellar free skate performance to the Rudy soundtrack Saturday night. Its 116.99-point free skate was over eight points ahead of the rest of the field, giving them a nearly 14-point lead overall and a whopping total score of 184.15.

In tailgate fashion, the competitors' parents drank beer and donned identical No. 45 jerseys from the stands in honor of the performance's 1993 football movie theme. In the film Rudy, an Illinois teen was always told he was too small to play college football, but he overcame the odds and fulfilled his dream of playing for Notre Dame.

Likewise, dreams came true for the junior Jazz team during the free skate event. They attacked their intersections with speed, flow and power. Skaters doing moves in isolation nailed their flying camels and split jumps into spread eagles with ease. Their program ended with an excellent move in the field sequence that included change edge spirals coming straight at the audience.

"I couldn't find anything wrong," coach Lisa Darken said. "They were incredibly determined this year, and it shows."

The team will not get to celebrate their win quite yet, however. They head back to the rink Monday to prepare for the World Synchronized Skating Challenge Cup for Juniors at the beginning of March.

"It's not over till it's over," Darken said.

Nor is it over for the silver medalists, the Colonials, who shot up from fourth after the short program to second overall with a breakthrough performance in the free skate. Set to a musical mix of "Separately" by S. Perry and J. Cain, "The Flame" by Cheap Trick and "I Want It All" by Queen, they earned 108.22 points in the free skate, giving them 170.93 overall. They too will head to junior worlds next month with their entertaining routine highlighted by a group guitar strum, in which their legs made for great guitars. The performance was lighthearted and fun, a reflection of the team's overall attitude throughout the week.

"They couldn't take the program too seriously," said Colonials coach Merita Mullen. "You have to go with that lightheartedness. Our goal was not to win anything but to try and satisfy ourselves."

The Colonials had great presentation and strong upper bodies. Their program opened with a circle that had excellent speed and flow. Their next step sequence earned an Level 4, and they had strong moves in the field sequence. The program was seamless from beginning to end, and the team never relinquished their quick tempo or flow.

Coach Mullen described her team as a "free skate" team -- the underdog, if you will -- that prefers to come from a lower placement after the short and work its way to the top.

Despite two small touchdowns, she said the team "hit a home run with a high quality free skate."

The Lexettes stuck to its tried and true third place after a 103.84-point free skate, which amounted to 168.25 total points. They skated to a medley of "Don Juan DeMarco" and "1,001 Nights" from Bombay Dreams.

"This feels like a gold medal for us," said coach Saga Krantz.

Last year at nationals, the Lexettes finished a disappointing eighth. So this year, their goal wasn't just to hold onto a good spot, but to win. Though they missed gold, bronze was a huge accomplishment.

"Our original goal was just to get an international assignment for next year, to be in the top six," said coach Dede Wilson. "After their performance at Easterns, we coaches made a pact to push them to get that medal. When we told them, they laughed and said they had already thought of that already."

Coaches Wilson, Krantz and Ron Kravette said they saw a couple little bobbles in steps, some balance issues and timing inconsistencies. But mostly, the program's flow was smooth throughout.

The Lexettes opened with spread eagles and combination spins. Their edges were deep in their step sequence, but they were particularly strong during the circle, which earned an Level 4.

Miami University's Junior Varsity Team dropped from second to fourth overall after their 300 free skate routine that earned 98.11 points for 163.49 overall, which just wasn't enough.

"We skate for ourselves and to beat our score, to improve our performances time after time," coach Carla DeGirolamo said. "You can't control results."