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Parsons, MacMillan take intermediate dance title

Shpilband, Benoit also claim leads

Rachel Parsons and Kyle MacMillan won the intermediate ice dancing title in Strongsville.
Rachel Parsons and Kyle MacMillan won the intermediate ice dancing title in Strongsville. (Becca Staed Bishop)

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By Becca Staed Bishop, special to icenetwork.com
(12/18/2009) - Intermediate dance team Rachel Parsons and Kyle MacMillan won their second straight U.S. Junior title Friday with a 107.49 competition mark. The duo was the juvenile ice dancing champions at last year's event in Lake Placid, N.Y.

The silver medal went to local favorites Holly Moore and Daniel Klaber, who earned 101.34 points, while the champions' training mates, Elliana Pogrebinsky and Ross Gudis, took with the bronze medal after collecting 100.19 points.

Parsons, 12, and MacMillan, 12, train under Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak and Dmytri Ilin, at Wheaton Skating Academy in Maryland and are in their second year together. They finished first in both compulsory dance events, the Foxtrot and American Waltz, and then rounded out the event with a 55.84 free dance score en route to the gold medal.

They opened with a beautiful side-by-side spin, followed by a solid straight line lift. MacMillan had some trouble on the twizzles, resulting in a -0.21 GOE, but they earned Level 4s on all elements but their circular step sequence, which still earned the highest GOE of 0.86 points.

"On the twizzles, we weren't completely synchronized, and I did more on one and then on footwork we have small (twizzles) and I did less," MacMillan said.

"Our goal this year was just to medal because it's a new level, and there are lots of good skaters, so we are really excited to have done this well," said Parsons.

Despite finishing fourth in both compulsory events and third in the free dance, Moore, 14, and Klaber, 15, landed in second place after their Moulin Rouge-themed free dance that brought in 54.64 points.

The duo not only celebrated their medal finish but also an improvement after finishing fifth last year in the juvenile ice dancing event, a reflection of their three-and-a-half year partnership.

"We have been together for such a long time that our unison is getting better," Moore said.

They earned nary a negative GOE and opened their routine with a beautiful curve lift, followed by a clean synchronized twizzles, both of which earned a 0.50 GOE and were graded Level 4s. Their circular step sequence was only a Level 1, but they finished with a strong Level 4 rotational lift.

"Our curve lift is our strongest element," said Moore. "But we had to change it after sectional after I pulled a hamstring and strained my hip flexor because it was up in a split. We had to change it, but this one is stronger."

After Gudis' partner quit skating, leaving him partnerless, the 14-year-old used a partner search web site and found 11-year-old Pogrebinsky, who traveled from San Jose, Calif., for a tryout. The couple immediately clicked, and, in March, Pogrebinsky moved cross-country to Maryland to begin training with Gudis at Wheaton.

"Elliana lived with [my family] temporarily, and so we got to know each other well," said Gudis. "It's been a successful season."

The team finished third in the Foxtrot and fifth in the American Waltz, but came back with a second-place finish for their mime-themed free dance, in which they wore black and white striped costumes.

They earned 54.64 points for the routine, which featured well-executed opening spins, a gorgeous Level 4 rotational lift and a curve lift that was also graded a Level 4. Their circular step sequence earned only a Level 1 but the highest GOE of 0.71, and their twizzles received a Level 4. They recorded the second-highest component mark of 27.07. "I like changing faces and going from one mood to a different one. I enjoyed performing a lot," Pogrebinsky said.

"We have a lot of confidence in each other and trust each other and connect to keep everything together," said Gudis.

Jessica DeMaria and Dean Miller finished fourth with 98.68 points. The duo was second in both compulsory events but finished fifth in the free dance event after a bobble on their closing element, a rotational lift, received a -0.14 GOE.

Intermediate Ladies Short Program
The intermediate ladies' qualifying round B leaders topped the field again after the short program event Friday. Skating first, Katia Shpilband, 13, set the pace for the intermediate ladies, earning a 37.81 segment score that put her in the lead heading into tomorrow's free skate. Avery Kurtz, who celebrated her 12th birthday yesterday, finished close behind in second with 35.61 points, while Hannah Miller rounded out the top three with 35.08 points.

Shpilband, daughter of world-renowned ice dancing coach Igor Shpilband, delivered a spotless and upbeat tango-themed short program to music by Vanessa-Mae. The routine, choreographed by her dad, opened with a clean double Lutz-double loop, followed by a soaring double Axel that earned a 1.00 GOE. Her spins were sharp, both earning Level 4s, and her circular step sequence brought in an impressive 0.79 GOE and was graded Level 3.

"I learned my double Axel last year, so by now it's gotten pretty strong" said Shpilband, who has worked with coach Theresa McKendry for more than four years. "I am looking forward to skating a good clean program tomorrow."

Kurtz delivered a sassy Latin-themed short program that opened with a nice double Axel, followed by a clean double Lutz-double toe. Her change-foot combination spin earned a Level 4, and her closing straight line step sequence was graded Level 3. She collected the second-best program component mark of 15.38.

"I was very excited about my short program" Kurtz said. "I have been training for a program like that and went out and did it."

Miller, 13, finished second in the first qualifying round of intermediate ladies, and maintained her competitive edge for third in the short program after garnering 35.08 points on the heels of Kurtz.

She had only a minor error, taking off on the wrong edge on her double Lutz, but delivered two Level 4 spins and a beautiful double Axel. She finished strong with a double flip-double loop combination jump. Her component mark was only the fourth highest in the field, but trailed fourth-place finisher Barbie Long's 15.08 component mark by only 0.31 points.

Long finished with a 34.33 short program score. Having landed a strong double Axel and executed two Level 4 spins, she is nipping at the heels of Miller leading into the free skate.

Juvenile Pairs Free Skate
The field was tight at the top in the juvenile pairs free skate, with Christina Zaitsev and Ernest Stevens surfacing in first place with 40.35 points after only six months together.

Samantha Torrey and Brian Krentz trailed close behind with 39.50 points to win the silver medal, and Elise Middleton and Robert Hennings grabbed bronze with a 38.66 competition mark.

Zaitsev, 10, and Stevens, 15, train under the former's father, U.S. pairs coach Sergei Zaitsev, at the Indiana World Skating Academy Figure Skating Club in Indianapolis, Ind.

They opened with a Group 2 Level 1 lift, followed by side-by-side double Lutz-double toe sequence that lost 0.43 points for a wrong take-off edge. Their following pairs spin was graded Level 4, and the routine also featured a strong throw Axel and forward inside death spiral that earned the highest GOE of 0.80.

The team took a one-point deduction for a fall at the end on their side-by-side double flip. However, they scored an impressive 22.71 points in components, which led Torrey and Krentz by 3.67 points.

"I couldn't ask for a better partner," said Stevens. "Our chemistry is so strong, and we are the best of friends. I look forward to skating with [Christina] every day."

After less than six months together, silver medalists Torrey, 12, and Krentz, 15, had several small mistakes but managed to stay upright on all of their elements and lost only minimal points throughout. They opened with a side-by-side double Lutz-double toe combination, followed by a clean Group 1 lift. Their flying change-foot combination spin was graded Level 4 but lost 0.17 points. Their Level 2 straight line step sequence and Group 2 Level 2 lift were the only remaining elements to earn positive GOEs.

"We tried our best and were happy with it," said Torrey.

"We did a clean program, landed our double Lutzes and double toes," chimed in Krentz.

The spunky team of 10-year-old Middleton and 13-year-old Hennings earned the highest program component mark of 21.96, which put them on the medal stand after losing two points in deductions for falls.

The duo opened strong and clean with a Level 2 pairs spin, followed by two Group 1 lists, including an Axel lasso lift, and a Level 2 forward inside death spiral that received the highest GOE of 0.60 points. Their flying change-foot combination spin was a Level 3, and they followed it with a clean Group 2 lift.

Things fell apart when both fell on their side-by-side double Salchows, which were downgraded, and then received only a Level 1 for their step sequence and faltered on their Axel-toe. Yet, they achieve what they came to do -- stand atop the medal podium.

"This wasn't really our best program," said Hennings. "We could have done better. We got really nervous on our double Salchows. It's not our best jump, but we have been trying really hard to make it better. But our goal was to medal."

Fourth place went to Hannah Bisbing and Jack Newberry -- the latter of which is also competing in the intermediate men's event -- after they delivered an almost flawless routine and earned a 38.26 competition mark.

Juvenile Compulsory Dances
There was a lot of movement at the top in the juvenile compulsory dances Friday night.

Tough they placed second in both compulsories, the Hickory Hoedown and the Fourteenstep, Whitney Miller and Grant Lorello are in first place with 37.22 points going into the free dance after duo Angelina Giordano and Christopher Davis slipped from first in the first compulsory to fourth in the second to sit third overall with 35.68 points.

Hannah Pfeifer and Alexander Petrov are in second place with 37.12 points. They finished fourth in the Hickory Hoedown but won the Fourteenstep with 18.48 points.

Sierra Chadwick and Alexander Martin are in fourth place with 35.34 points after finishing third in both compulsories.

Intermediate Men's Short Program
Alex Benoit topped the intermediate men's field after the short program event Friday night with a 36.44 segment mark. But J. Daniel Vallecilla and Jordan Moeller are on his heels leading into the free skate with 35.25 and 35.18 segment marks, respectively.

Benoit, last year's juvenile men's bronze medalist, turned in an outstanding short program, which featured a strong opening double Lutz-double toe, a clean double flip, a quick Level 4 change-foot combination spin and well-executed straight line step sequence which received a Level 3 from the technical panel. His 17.51 component mark outscored the field by nearly two points.

Vallecilla was the 2008 U.S. juvenile pairs bronze medalist and 2009 U.S. juvenile pairs champion with partner Emily Chan, and hopes to add an intermediate men's medal to his collection this year.

"I would like to place on the podium," said Vallecilla. "This was cleanest short program I have done at nationals, and it makes me excited to go into tomorrow."

The 12-year-old, who is coached by his aunt, Lefki Terzakis, skated to "Malaguena (Paso Doble)" for his short program, and received not a single negative mark from the judges. He landed a beautiful double Axel, as well as three more double jumps, and displayed excellent control on two Level 4 spins. His 15.85 component mark was the second best in the field.

Jordan Moeller, 14, is in third place with 35.18 points going into tomorrow free skate.

Skating to music from Kill Bill, Moeller landed four clean double jumps, including the field's strongest double Axel that earned a 1.14 GOE. He received Level 3s on all of his spins and step sequences, and earned the fourth-best component mark with 15.26 points.

"I felt like it was one of my best programs," Moeller said. "It was a personal best by a whole point, so I am pretty happy with that. I did get a couple Level 3s on my spins, but otherwise it was OK. I have been trying to get all my levels, especially on my footwork."

Nix Phengsy, winner of the first intermediate men's qualifying round, sits fourth with 34.71 points. He earned the third-highest component mark, but his GOEs were unable to surpass that of Moeller.