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Sectionals set field for U.S. Championships

Top four in each discipline win tickets to Cleveland

Morgan Matthews and Leif Gislason won the senior ice dancing event at Eastern sectionals.
Morgan Matthews and Leif Gislason won the senior ice dancing event at Eastern sectionals. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(11/18/2008) - Last week, skaters around the country fought it out at three sectional competitions. The prize: coveted invitations to the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Cleveland in January.

Byes were given to individuals and teams who placed in the top five at the 2008 U.S. Championships, as well as athletes competing at time-conflicting international events and those who qualified for the upcoming ISU Junior Grand Prix Final. The best of the rest put their programs on display, with the top four in each discipline at the senior, novice and junior level earning trips to Cleveland.

2009 Eastern Sectional Championships

At Eastern sectionals, held at the Skating Club of Boston, Shaun Rogers out-gunned Curran Oi for the senior men's title. Skating with verve and confidence under new coach Priscilla Hill, Rogers hit a gorgeous opening quadruple toe loop in his free skate, followed by two fine triple Axels. The 23-year-old took the title with 189.38 points.

"The Axel and quad have been really good," Rogers said. "I've been working with Priscilla a lot on my landings; she's been able to tweak a few things. In the past, I would do the jumps but get minuses on Grades of Execution. It's been good to get her point of view. I've also been working with Irina Romanova on my footwork, and I got a Level 3 [on my straight-line steps] here, which is great."

About leaving Pam Gregory, his coach of 12 years, Rogers said, "During the past couple of years, there have been some minor disagreements. I made the move the week after [placing second at] Finlandia Trophy [held Oct. 9-12]. Pam is a great coach; I hope we are always on good terms."

Oi, who won the short program, finished just 3.62 points behind Rogers. Jason Wong and Tommy Steenberg also qualified.

Another veteran, Joelle Forte, triumphed in the senior ladies event in a close contest with Brittney Rizo. Forte, a 22-year-old psychology major at Fordham University in New York City, earned her first trip to the U.S. Championships since 2000 by winning both the short program and free skate. Her long to Madame Butterfly featured six clean triple jumps, and her spin and footwork elements all earned Level 3's and 4's.

"I'm very excited," Forte said. "I trained very well this year. Back when I was 18, I quit the sport for a year and a half, but I missed it and decided to come back and show everyone what I could do."

Rizo, Blake Rosenthal and Taylor Firth will join Forte in Cleveland.

Morgan Matthews and Leif Gislason dominated senior dance, winning by more than 30 points. It was their first competition as a team. Their training partners in Aston, Pa., Clare Farrell and Charles Fishpaw, were second, and Lauren Corry and Alexander Lorello placed third.

"We made a few silly mistakes in the free dance, but it just feels great to finally get that first competition under our belts," Matthews said.

Florida-based Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett took top honors over Chloe Katz and Joseph Lynch in senior pairs, with Jessica Rose Paetsch and Drew Meekins also qualifying.

Here are the other qualifiers from Boston:

Division Gold medalist(s) Silver medalist(s) Bronze medalist(s) Pewter medalist(s)
Junior Ladies Kristiene Gong Kendall Wyckoff Samantha Cesario Gretchen Donlan
Junior Men Ross Miner Alexander Aiken Peter Max Dion Michael Chau
Junior Pairs Tracy Tanovich
Michael Chau
Lauren Farr
Mac Kern
Lauren Ryan
Taylor Toth
Rachel DeRita
Brandon Accardi
Junior Ice Dancing Isabella Cannuscio
Ian Lorello
Sara Bailey
Kyle Herring
Anastasia Cannuscio
Colin McManus
Chloe Wolf
Rhys Ainsworth
Novice Ladies Yasmin Siraj Viviana Mathis Keilani-Lyn Rudderham Christine Mozer
Novice Men Christopher Fernandes John McKenna Colin Grafton Austin Wagner
Novice Pairs Olivia Gibbons
Tyler Harris
Haven Denney
Daniel Raad
Kylie Duarte
Colin Grafton
Meredith Pipkin
Brett Dunie Neustadt
Novice Ice Dancing Una Donegan
Andrew Korda
Gabrielle Friedenberg
Benjamin Nykiel
Katharine Zeigler
Samuel Rashba
Natalie Wojton
Michael Soyfer

2009 Midwestern Sectional Championships

For Molly Oberstar, who turned 20 on Nov. 12, the Midwestern title was a wonderful birthday present. Alissa Czisny's late bye, due to an invitation to compete at the Cup of Russia this week, left the door open for the Minnesotan to repeat as senior ladies champion, and she won by 4.88 points over Melissa Telecky. Brittney Westdorp and Tatyana Khazova placed third and fourth, respectively.

"Overall, it was a really successful week," Oberstar said after taking the title in Sugar Land, Texas. "I basically put out two clean programs, and it feels really good. It's always a rewarding feeling when you train really hard and something good comes of it."

Oberstar, who is coached by Ann Eidson in Saint Paul, Minn., is thrilled with her routines, choreographed by former Canadian champion Sebastien Britten.

"I love both my programs, especially my long," she said. "It's North African, kind of ethnic. It's really unique and a challenge for me to grow into. I'm working on the performance aspect of my skating, to feel every beat of my music and know the story I'm portraying."

Former U.S. novice and junior champion Parker Pennington, who placed 11th at the 2008 U.S. Championships, won the senior men's event with 192.54 points. Eliot Halverson, the 2007 U.S. junior champ, was second with 186.21, with Jonathan Cassar and William Brewster completing the top four.

"This has been the most interesting season thus far for me, in a good way," Pennington said. "I moved back to Cleveland mid-summer to reunite with my former coach, [1960 Olympic ladies champion] Carol Heiss Jenkins. Being back training with her, in addition to Roberta Mitchell, has been the most exciting time of my life.

"I recently got diagnosed with vertigo, which was what [former U.S. champ] Scott Davis was diagnosed with as well years ago. It was a true wake-up call for me ... I chose to see it as a challenge. I have since come to realize I have had it for years and had no idea. Since discovering it, I have made numerous corrections both on the ice and off to battle it, and my results this season are beginning to show that."

Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin, sixth in the U.S. last season, won the senior pairs competition despite losing the free skate to Andrea Best and Trevor Young, who placed second overall. Lisa Moore and Justin Gaumond (third place) and Kendra Moyle and Steven Pottenger (fourth place) also qualified.

Here are the other qualifiers from Sugar Land, Texas:

Division Gold medalist(s) Silver medalist(s) Bronze medalist(s) Pewter medalist(s)
Junior Ladies Christina Gao Marissa Secundy Kirsten Olson DeeDee Leng
Junior Men Grant Hochstein Roger Corvasce Juran Yang Daniel O'Shea
Junior Pairs Brynn Carman
Christopher Knierim
Brittany Chase
Andrew Speroff
Ameena Sheikh
Aaron VanCleave
Britney Simpson
Nathan Miller
Junior Ice Dancing Shannon Wingle
Timothy McKernan
Rachel Tibbetts
Collin Brubaker
Brittany Marshall
Ashley Deavers
Novice Ladies Kiri Baga Nina Jiang Lauren Dinh Mary Beth Marley
Novice Men Joshua Farris Jason Brown Steven Evans Jason Thomas
Novice Pairs Cassie Andrews
Nicholas Anderson
Lauren Gifford
Carson Bodnarek
Ashley Cain
Sergey Sidorov
Rachel Cole
Colin Glabinski
Novice Ice Dancing Anastasia Olson
Jordan Cowan
Sameena Sheikh
Daniel Eaton
Moriah Tabon
Matt Kleffman
Grace Lee Sells
Robert Cuthbertson

2009 Pacific Coast Sectional Championships

Emotions ran high at the Pacific Coast sectionals in Scottsdale, Ariz., when Nicholas LaRoche took the ice for his free skate to a medley that included "Unforgettable" and "Unchained Melody."

The 25-year-old skater, who lost his parents this summer in an apparent murder-suicide, rotated a total of eight triple jumps and landed two solid triple Lutzes, gaining a partial standing ovation from audience members knowledgeable about the tragedy. He placed fourth, earning his sixth trip as a senior to the U.S. Championships in the last seven years (last year was the only time he did not qualify).

"Deciding to continue on with skating and compete another year was extremely difficult," LaRoche said. "I had not stepped on the ice in front of any judges since sectionals in 2008, and with the passing of my parents I had a very different emotional barrier to break through.

"The support this year has been incredible, and it made me realize how many people were truly behind me and appreciated my skating. I am so proud to have made nationals again and am looking forward to a very exciting time in Cleveland."

The title went to Dennis Phan, the 2003 U.S. junior champion who placed 10th at the 2008 U.S. Championships.

Phan had an excellent short program to a piano version of Gershwin's "Summertime," highlighted by a strong triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. He notched the win despite placing second in the long, finishing with an impressive 189.92 points.

Douglas Razzano, fourth after the short, won the free skate with a strong performance to music from the motion picture soundtrack The Red Violin. He hit a solid triple Axel and also rotated a quadruple toe loop before stepping out of the landing, then he proceeded to land six additional triples.

"I was very pleased with the way I skated in the long," Razzano said. "It was at my home rink, and everyone was always saying, 'You have a home-field advantage.' Meanwhile, in my eyes, I find it much more difficult to skate at home.

"I kept telling myself to take one thing at a time, just as I do in practice. It worked, and during my program, it was almost as if I had a checklist and was just checking off element after element. I was so thrilled with the result, especially after a somewhat disastrous short program."

Scott Smith, sixth at the 2008 U.S. Championships, qualified in third place.

Karen Zhou, who is coached by Rafael Arutunian and Karen Kwan in Lake Arrowhead and Artesia, Calif., won senior ladies despite having three of the triples in her "Daphnis et Chloe" free skate downgraded by the technical panel. She placed third in that segment but won the short with a fine performance to Spanish guitar music. Overall, she earned 132.29 points, just holding off Laney Diggs, who was second with 131.88.

"It wasn't my best performance, but I'm glad it was enough," Zhou said. "It's an improvement, and I'm proud of that.

"We've been working on getting my jumps bigger and stronger and improving the levels on my spins. This competition, my spins got all the levels we hoped for. I know I can still improve my transitions and presentation, and I'm looking forward to working on that before nationals."

After placing seventh in the short, Tenile Victorsen won the free skate and climbed to third overall. Chrissy Hughes grabbed the final qualifying spot with her fourth-place finish.

Lindsay Davis and Alexander Merritt, a new pair coached by former U.S. pair champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, won senior pairs with 148.68 points. Davis, who is new to the discipline, did double duty, also winning the novice ladies event. Jennifer Brunn and Don Baldwin, younger brother of two-time U.S. pair champ John Baldwin, were second. Bianca Butler and Joseph Jacobson (third place) and Laura Lepzinski and Ethan Burgess (fourth place) rounded out the qualifiers.

In a competitive senior dance contest, Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt edged out new team Trina Pratt and Chris Obzansky by 0.44 points. Jessica Perino and William Avila (third place) and Emma Cyders and Ievgenii Krasniak (fourth place) also earned tickets to Cleveland.

Here are the other qualifiers from Scottsdale, Ariz.:

Division Gold medalist(s) Silver medalist(s) Bronze medalist(s) Pewter medalist(s)
Junior Ladies Ellie Kawamura Carolyn-Ann Alba Vanessa Lam Keli Zhou
Junior Men Keegan Messing Austin Kanallakan Andrew Gonzales David Wang
Junior Pairs Megan Gueli
Grant Marron
Emily Glassberg
Gabe Woodruff
Molly Aaron
Daniyel Cohen
Kloe Bautista
Galvani Hopson
Junior Ice Dancing Elyse Matsumoto
Patrick Mays
Charlotte Lichtman
Dean Copely
Katie Wyble
Justin Morrow
Alison Carey
Daniel Donigan
Novice Ladies Lindsay Davis Angela Wang Katlynn McNab Kelly Nguyen
Novice Men Joshua Santillan Jay Yostanto Edward Tea Allen Gaghinjian
Novice Pairs Tori Vollmer
Zack Sidhu
Cali Fujimoto
Nicholas Barsi-Rhyne
Marissa Spector
Christopher Nolan
Morgan Agster
Adam Civiello
Novice Ice Dancing Lauri Bonacorsi
Travis Mager
MacKenzie Reid
Adam Munday
Joylyn Yang
Jean-Luc Baker
Julia Leix
Thomas Zebrasky