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Andrews, Anderson win novice pairs short program

Indiana-based team is in front by nearly four points at U.S. Champs

Haven Denney and Daniel Raad earned 35.75 point for their performance on Monday.
Haven Denney and Daniel Raad earned 35.75 point for their performance on Monday. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Becca Staed, special to icenetwork.com
(01/19/2009) - In their first year together, Cassie Andrews, 15, and Nicholas Anderson, 17, did not enjoy immediate success, finishing 14th at the 2005 U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships. Then, as if overnight, the duo transformed, becoming the 2006 juvenile pairs champions a year later and the 2007 intermediate titlists.

It took them another year to find their footing at the novice level -- they placed fifth in novice pairs at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. But, as if on cue, they quickly adapted and have grabbed the lead in the novice pairs short program in Cleveland at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships with a 39.53 segment score -- a personal best.

"There's a lot more moves you have to learn as novices, and it's probably the biggest jump that you have to make -- between intermediate and novice," Anderson said. "But we've improved a lot since last year, and that's our main goal."

Skating to de Angelis' "Jalouse Analouse," Andrews and Anderson thrilled the crowd, opening with a Level 3 double Lutz twist lift, a Group 5 Axel lasso lift and a throw double Lutz. Two of their spins earned Level 4s, and they landed a clean side-by-side double Lutz with marked precision.

"They have been working very, very hard throughout the season," said coach Serguei Zaitsev, who's been with the pair since the beginning. "Our primary focus was to improve their power this season and the polish of their elements to make them less hesitant. So, I think we got very close to our plan. But tomorrow is the big day."

Haven Denney and Daniel Raad, who joined forces just six months ago, sit in second place with 35.75 points.

"We clicked right away because we skate more or less the same, so we didn't have too many hurdles," Raad said.

Though eight years separates them in age, both come from a background in singles. Raad, 21, competed as a junior man in the past two U.S. Championships, with a best finish of 10th in 2007.

"We get along really well," said Raad. "She gets my sense of humor. Sometimes I forget she's 13 and say something, and she will be like, 'I have no idea what that is.' But things work out pretty well."

The duo's short program, skated to "Sing, Sing, Sing" from The Swing Kids soundtrack, featured an opening Level 2 double Lutz twist lift, a Group 5 Axel lasso lift that earned a Level 3, and a Level 2 forward-inside death spin.

In third, with 35.11 points, are Olivia Gibbons and Tyler Harris. This event is special for the 15-year-old Gibbons, not only because this is her and Harris' first trip to the U.S. Championships, but also because she is home. Four years ago, she moved with her mother to Boston from Cleveland to team up with Harris, while her dad stayed behind for work.

"My dad comes to visit us in Boston almost every weekend," said Gibbons. "At the beginning, it was kind of tough not having a father figure, but now its OK because I have grown up."

And the cheering section that goes along with being home doesn't hurt.

"I have a lot of family here," she said. "It's a little stressful because I want to do well for them, but at the same time I know they will love and support me no matter what."

The pair opened with a double Lutz twist lift, followed by a throw double loop and an excellent Group 5 Axel lasso lift that earned a Level 3 and a 1.43 Grade of Execution -- their highest.

"Some of the tougher tricks we have had to work at, but our lifts are our trademark," said Harris, who turns 21 this week.

His celebration plans?

"I will probably hang out with my family for a little bit and head home -- nothing special," he said.

In fourth place, after a 31.55-point short program, is Ashley Cain and Sergey Sidorov.