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Yankowskas finds her prince after lengthy search

Former U.S. champ teams up with Joshua Reagan, will train in Detroit

Caitlin Yankowskas hopes she is able to reach the same heights in her new partnership with Joshua Reagan as she did in her last one with John Coughlin.
Caitlin Yankowskas hopes she is able to reach the same heights in her new partnership with Joshua Reagan as she did in her last one with John Coughlin. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/22/2012) - After sitting out a season, waiting and hoping for the right partner, Caitlin Yankowskas is back in the game.

The 21-year-old skater, who won the 2011 U.S. pairs title with John Coughlin, has teamed with Joshua Reagan.

"I am so thankful to compete again," Yankowskas said. "I have missed it. I've been itching for the opportunity, and here it is on my doorstep."

Reagan, 22, won the 2011 U.S. junior title with Ashley Cain and placed fourth at the 2011 World Junior Figure Skating Championships that season. This season, they competed at the Rostelecom Cup and finished sixth at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Cain also competed in junior ladies and won silver behind Gracie Gold.

"I did decide to make a change," Reagan said. "I talked about it with my coach, David [Kirby], and told him I had ended things with Ashley, but that I didn't want to quit. I wanted to carry on as quickly as possible."

"I think Josh may have thought he was holding Ashley back [from her singles' career]," Kirby said. "She is a great pairs skater and singles skater."

After Cain and Reagan parted ways in February, Kirby contacted Yankowskas' coach in Canton, Mich., Johnny Johns, to arrange a tryout for the two. Shortly thereafter, Yankowskas traveled to Dallas, where she and Reagan tried out under Kirby's direction.

"When he came up and we started tryouts, I said, 'Holy moly,' " Yankowskas said. "I knew in my gut he was the right choice."

"To me, Caitlin is one of the top 10 pairs skaters in the world," Kirby said. "Last season [at the world championships] in Moscow, all the talk backstage was about the beautiful, new American girl, with people saying she was '[program] component rich.'

"We saw right away that Josh could improve his components using her assets, and she could improve her technical [scores] using his skills. They really could be a perfect fit."

The team will train in Canton with Johns as the primary coach. Kirby, who lives in Dallas, will be the secondary coach. Marina Zoueva will also coach and will choreograph their programs. Although primarily known for her work with the world's top ice dancing teams, Zoueva has also trained top pairs, most notably two-time Olympic champions Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov.

"Usually, you can see if a team matches," Zoueva said. "We know very quickly they liked each other and they could work together. I saw absolutely the chemistry between them, the energy between them. The hours go so fast. You can be working with them for a few hours, and it seems like 20 minutes.

"I am absolutely happy. Pairs is my favorite event. I like the choreography: more speed, more athletic, more in the air. For me, it's special."

Yankowskas, whose partnership with Coughlin ended shortly after the 2011 World Championships, tried out with several other potential partners over the past year, but nothing clicked.

"Josh wasn't ever really on my radar, because he and Ashley did fairly well their first year senior," she said. "I thought if I did not find a partner this year and had to wait out another season, I might be out of skating. I am a very lucky girl to have Josh.

"After I flew down to Dallas the next week, things kept getting better, and I knew this was it, he was the one. This is all I've ever wanted. I can't tell you how happy I am. Just to skate pairs again makes my life complete."

The two are hard at work in Canton, working on program ideas and elements, including the triple twist, a move Cain and Reagan did not include in their competitive programs and one that Yankowskas only did her final season with Coughlin. With Reagan standing a shade over 6 feet and Yankowskas at 5-foot-3, shorter than the 5-foot-5 Cain, they are still growing used to each other.

"At first my timing was off," Reagan said. "I didn't have to go down as far in the knees; I had to adjust. We've done [side-by-side] double Axels and triple toes, and we've already done throw triples. We're working on the twist timing. Hopefully, we can get the big elements out of the way and then work on other things, especially our chemistry on ice. The tricks will come."

Both skaters think they've got a coaching dream team.

"Johnny Johns is great technically," Reagan said of the veteran coach, who won U.S. titles in pairs and dance during his competitive career and has coached many top skaters, including 2007 U.S. champions Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski. "David is also great with the elements and really knows how to put together the whole package."

"Aesthetically, we're a wonderful match," Yankowskas said. "We both have blonde hair and blue eyes. Our lines work together beautifully. That was one of the main reasons I was sold on skating with him. Johnny was joking around, he said, 'You guys look beautiful together.' I know pairs are all about the elements, but you also have to have that look and be pleasing to the eye."

Kirby, who will serve as the pairs technical specialist at the upcoming world championships in Nice, France, said he, Johns and Zoueva had drawn up a two-year plan for the new team.

"Both Caitlin and Josh love to skate pairs, so we said, 'Let's grab onto that,' " he said. "At the tryouts, you could see how much they both wanted it. They're both adults, and they're setting reasonable goals.

"I'm in Dallas, they're in Detroit [area], and Johnny is sending me daily video clips showing lots of good stuff. If they stick to our two-year plan, they have good potential."

Kirby, who upon his return from Nice plans to work with Yankowskas and Reagan for 10 days in Dallas, added that coaching with longtime friend Johns is "one of the things on my 'bucket list.' We go way back to when we were teenagers. We've been friends for 40 years, and we've always wanted to stand together [by the boards] at nationals."

Since arriving in Canton some months ago, Yankowskas has been inspired by the rink's many ice dancers, including Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani.

"It's very, very motivating," she said. "Everyone here is so nice. I've made a lot of friends. You would think being the only pair team here it would be difficult, but honestly it's 10 times better. They all understand how a partnership works, how all of the elements work. To have them cheering us on is great."

Despite the many high-level competitors in Canton, the new team is getting plenty of time and coaching attention.

"It's a great schedule for us," Reagan said. "There are a lot more teams here than in Dallas, so obviously it's different, but there is plenty of ice."

"We can have undivided attention while we work toward being a great pair team," Yankowskas said.

Yankowskas and Reagan will likely debut at competitions this summer, with an eye toward presenting both their short program and free skate at the Indy Pairs Challenge in August.

"We really want to set reasonable expectations for ourselves," Reagan said. "We want to see what we can do at Indy and hopefully be considered for an [international] assignment."

Before then, Yankowskas has another goal: score a ticket for the long-awaited Hunger Games movie, the well-reviewed potential blockbuster based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling book.

"I am obsessed, I love that book so much," she said. "I might even drag Josh. A week ago he didn't know what Hunger Games was."