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Yang, Baker lead after sterling Waltz

Favorites Lichtman, Copely just .86 behind

Joylyn Yang and Jean-Luc Baker lead heading into the junior free dance.
Joylyn Yang and Jean-Luc Baker lead heading into the junior free dance. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/25/2011) - This may be their first junior season, but Joylyn Yang and Jean-Luc Baker are not taking a backseat.

The determined couple -- who train under Baker's parents in Edmonds, Wash., performed a near-flawless Waltz to "My Favorite Things" and stepped out to a .86-point lead after the junior short dance today.

"It was a lot of work to get [the program] where we wanted it to be," Yang, 15, said. "We wanted to find a different style than everyone else had, and our coach [Sharon Jones] found this piece. I think we really attacked it."

In the junior short dance, couples perform two sequences of the Viennese Waltz, a compulsory (or pattern) dance, as well as three other elements.

Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely, one of the pre-event favorites, are hot on Yang and Baker's heels, with Lauri Bonacorsi and Travis Mager third. After a scoring snafu was corrected, Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus sit fourth with 52.25 points.

Yang and Baker, who won the U.S. novice bronze medal last season, had the finest Viennese Waltz sequences of the event, gaining Levels 3 and 4 from the technical panel. Their twizzles and rotational lift also rated Level 4, and they scored a 56.09.

"Since we were sent out [on the Junior Grand Prix] to represent the United States we've learned a lot more," Baker, 17, said. "We competed in Japan and Ostrava, and it was amazing."

"The international fields really opened our eyes," Yang said. "Watching the other teams, with their clean lines and clean skating, makes us think, 'We want that.'"

While there are no comparable ice dance teams at their home rink, the team often trains in Vancouver with Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe's couples, including newly crowned Canadian junior champions Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams.

"It's difficult to go to Vancouver during the school year, but we go in the summer," the team's coach [and Jean-Luc's mom] Sharon Jones, a four-time British ice dance champion, said.

"Being the only top team at the rink, they have to stay self-motivated and set their own goals."

Lichtman and Copely, who placed fifth at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Beijing in December, skated a polished and lively program to a medley including "That's Amore." Both their twizzles and curve lift gained Level 4.

"It went really well," Lichtman said. "We've now been together for two-and-a-half years, and the more time we're together -- especially having skated at the Final -- boosts our confidence."

"[The Final] was a cool competition; it was really the best of the best, and we felt like we belonged," Copely said. "The locker room felt like the Russian Embassy."

The team, who train under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva in Canton, Mich., are shooting for gold here.

"We're starving for the title, but there are a lot of good teams," Copely said.

Bonacorsi and Mager earned 56.09 points for an elegant Waltz to music from My Sweet and Tender Beast, including a fine twizzle sequence.

The team trains in Aston, Pa., under 1980 Olympic champions Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov. There, they share the ice with a host of teams, including 2010 European silver medalists Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali. Scali presented all of the U.S. Championships' competitors with good luck "Angel" pins for their trip to Greensboro.

"We all get along so well; it's a great, friendly atmosphere," Mager said. "We're like one big family. Even international teams that come over to work with Natalia and Gennadi for one week become part of the family. Natalia and Gennadi care so much about all of their teams, no matter their level."

Cannuscio and McManus, alternates to the Junior Grand Prix Final, had a smooth performance to a medley including "This Is a Man's World," including an impressive one-foot section in their step sequence.

"We worked with our technical coach, Christie Moxley, to really push the step sequence," McManus said. "For ice dancers, doing the steps on one foot is like a quad."