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Experience pays off for Vollmer, Sidhu in short

Cain and Reagan trail close behind in second

Tori Vollmer and Zack Sidhu hold a slim lead over the competition in the novice pairs short.
Tori Vollmer and Zack Sidhu hold a slim lead over the competition in the novice pairs short. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Becca Staed Bishop, special to icenetwork.com
(01/17/2010) - Of this year's 12 novice pairs teams, only five have been together through two seasons. That experience helped one of those five teams, Tori Vollmer and Zack Sidhu, who lead after the short program with 37.85 points.

Blazing a trail close behind are brand new team Ashley Cain, 14, and Joshua Reagan, 20, with a 37.35 segment score, and four-month-old team Olivia Oltmanns, 12, and Joshua Santillan, 17, with 36.31 points.

Vollmer and Sidhu paired up two years ago, finishing fifth in novice pairs in 2009, which earned them a berth to the 2009 Junior Grand Prix in Poland, where they finished eighth and picked up some international experience.

"[International competition] prepared us for what we are supposed to look for, like what we need to work on and how we need to skate," said Vollmer. "We need to work on our speed, posture and presentation."

The duo trains alongside three senior pairs teams, including two-time U.S. pairs champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, at the All Year Figure Skating Club in California, which has helped hone their skills as well.

"It's been good for them because they have the three senior pairs teams to train with, so their level comes up a bit too," said Jenni Meno, who coaches the team with Todd Sand. Skating to the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," Vollmer and Sidhu opened strong with a Group 5 step in lift that received a level four and the most points (6.50) of the entire routine. They also performed a clean throw double Axel, level-three straight line step sequence and synchronized side-by-side double flips. Their combination spin also garnered a level four. They earned the highest component score of 29.69.

Cain previously skated novice pairs with Sergey Sidorov, with a best finish of sixth at last year's U.S. Championships. When the team split due to "communication problems," Cain teamed up with Reagan, who had just returned to skating after splitting his head open in a skating accident four years ago that caused him to lose sight in his right eye temporarily and kept him off the ice until 2009.

"I hadn't done pairs before," said Reagan, a former singles skater. "This is all kind of new. It was easy getting back into it though. Within a week I could do a double Axel. It took three to four years to completely heal. I was pretty much over it after a year, but there were still little things that affected me during that period."

The duo skated a nearly flawless short to Three Dog Night's "One," opening with a pairs spin, Group 5 step in lift and double Lutz twist lift, all of which earned level twos. They landed their side-by-side double flip cleanly and displayed nice skills on their straight line step sequence that was graded a level three. They lost only 0.07 points on their flying combination spin that still received a level four.

Their lack of international experience, and experience in general, compared to many of the novice teams in Spokane doesn't faze them.

"We are nervous competing against everybody because everybody here is really good, but it hasn't affected us that many of them have gone to Junior Grand Prixs," said Cain. "We just do what we do."

Third-place finishers Oltmanns and Santillan also paired up recently, signing up to compete this season just one day before the deadline.

Oltmanns was the juvenile and intermediate pairs champion in 2008 and 2009, respectively, with former partner Tyler Broderick, but split from him in 2009.

"His parents knew he wasn't coming home if we did well at nationals and went other places, and they were six hours away from him, and one day it just ended unexpectedly," Oltmanns said.

After a successful tryout, Santillan moved from Orange County, Calif., to Minneapolis to skate with Oltmanns at the Dakota Ice Center.

"I had dabbled in juvenile pairs when I was around 13," said Santillan, who finished 11th in novice men at this event last year. "I had been interested for a while, and then this opportunity arose. I knew that unless I got a really good offer, I was not going to do it."

Skating to Vanessa-Mae's "(I) Can, Can (You?)," the pair recorded the third-highest component mark of 28.20. They had a couple minor mistakes, but displayed clean side-by-side double flips, a level four combination spin, a level two double Lutz twist lift and a Group 5 step in lift that garnered a level three.

"We made quite a few mistakes for us," said Oltmanns. "We want to improve in our free skate. None of these things usually happen, but we had a really shaky lift. Probably the competition nerves because it's my first nationals. Usually the twist is really good, but when I landed it was just off."

Mandy Garza and Brandon Frazier are in fourth place going into the free skate with a 35.55 segment mark. The team earned the second-highest component mark of 28.80.