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Toth 'super excited' about teaming up with Baga

New pair will train in Chicago; O'Shea teams up with Kayne

Taylor Toth last competed in the 2010-11 season with Felicia Zhang.
Taylor Toth last competed in the 2010-11 season with Felicia Zhang. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/23/2012) - In the spring an unattached skater's fancy turns to finding a partner, and Taylor Toth and Kiri Baga think they're a perfect match.

Toth, the 2010 U.S. junior pairs champion, and Baga, the 10th-place senior lady at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, plan to compete as a senior pair next season.

"I'm super excited," Toth, 23, said. "Kiri is a great skater. The first time I saw her compete was at the Junior Grand Prix in Dresden [in 2009], and from that moment I knew she could be a very successful pair girl."

Toth won his U.S. title with former partner Felicia Zhang. They also finished ninth at junior worlds that season and competed at two senior Grand Prix events in the fall of 2010. Injuries to Zhang's ribs forced them to withdraw from the 2011 U.S. Championships, and they ended their partnership soon after.

The 16-year-old Baga, who placed seventh at 2010 junior worlds, will continue her singles career.

"It's kind of been a dream of mine," she said. "A lot of people say it will be difficult, because I definitely still want singles to be a focus in my life, but I really want to go for it. I don't want to have any regrets."

The team will be coached by Jeremy Allen, the 2001 U.S. junior pairs champion (with Deborah Blinder), in Buffalo Grove, Ill., just north of Chicago, where Allen is building a pairs training program. Both are relocating: Toth from Pittsburgh, Baga from Bloomington, Minn. Allen also trains Elizabeth Egbers and Jacob Simon, who placed fifth in 2012 U.S. intermediate pairs.

"Taylor was a student of mine on and off since he was about 14," said Allen, who previously coached at the University of Delaware with Ron Ludington and Jeff DiGregorio, said. "We talked last year after his partnership with Felicia ended. He ended up sitting out a season, because the right opportunity just wasn't there."

The skaters tried out twice over the past two months, and, according to Allen, everything clicked.

"It was very apparent to everyone that this was the right thing to do," he said. "We probably spent a little over a week total running through the basics. Their side-by-side jumps were impeccable; they did double Axel, triple Salchow and triple toe in perfect unison. She landed her first throw triple Salchow.

"They are well-matched in artistry, lines and styles. It's very exciting. Her strength as a single skater really plays out in pairs."

After parting ways with Zhang, Toth tried out with several potential partners but ended up spending the 2011-12 season on the sideline.

"It was the toughest year of my skating career," he said. "It was very difficult to sit back and say to myself, 'This time last year you were at Skate America' or 'This time last year you were in Paris.' At the same time I wanted to make sure [the partnership] was right."

Toth contacted Baga last season, but the timing was off.

"I was getting over an injury. I was focusing on singles and my body probably couldn't handle any more," said Baga, who turns 17 on April 15. "Now I really think I can do it. I want to go for it and see where it takes us. I'm not giving up on singles because that's very important to me as well.

"People say, 'Won't this be too hard on you?' Well, if it is, then at least I tried really hard. I think it will be a great experience, no matter what."

Allen, who helped Mary Beth Marley prepare for her pairs tryout with Rockne Brubaker and later took her through several pairs tests, thinks Baga can succeed.

"What I've learned is that it is more important for the boy to be experienced [in pairs] than it is for the girl," Allen said. "A girl can catch up a lot faster, especially if she is a solid singles skater. We've seen that with Mary Beth and Rockne.

"Going into this, I would do nothing to discourage Kiri's single skating. Others have done [both disciplines]. The obvious example is Kristi Yamaguchi, who won national titles in pairs [with Rudy Galindo] and singles. More recently, Ashley Cain competed in both for a few years."

Toth thinks their height and size differential is perfect for today's challenging elements.

"I'm 5'11", Kiri is 5'1", and she has a very petite frame, which makes everything fairly easy to do in just this small amount of time," he said. "I can only imagine what we can get done with some real training."

While Baga completes her junior year of high school, she and Toth will skate for the next few months in Bloomington, where she also will continue to train with longtime coach Lorie Charbonneau in singles.

"Over spring break, we will skate in Chicago [with Allen] and then Taylor will come out here so we can get our tests going," Baga said. "After that, we will move to Chicago. My mom totally supports me and is behind me, and she would be with me quite a bit, at least at first, to make the transition easier."

The new pair hopes to compete at summer competitions, including the annual Indy Pairs Challenge, usually held in early August.

"They might do a program at Skate Detroit before Indy, and then hopefully do two programs [short and free] at Indy," Allen said.

"Tentatively, that would be the goal," Toth said. "We need to do two programs at the same competition to be considered for an international event. Of course, we have goals for this coming season, but we really want to pace ourselves toward more long-term goals, less short-term goals."

Pairs news from Florida

Zhang, Toth's former partner, placed eighth with Nate Bartholomay at the 2012 U.S. Championships.

"Felicia and Nate did what they needed to do, which is lay the groundwork for the next few years," said Jim Peterson, who with Lyndon Johnston coaches the team in Florida. "They beat their personal best by more than 20 points; they're hitting their stride."

Zhang and Bartholomay plan to continue training at Ellenton's Ice and Sports Complex. Zhang, who deferred college for one year, hopes to enroll at a university part-time.

"We're excited to be able to train full-time in Florida and see how good we can get for next season," Bartholomay said.

"We're adding a throw triple loop to their programs and increasing the technical ante on their side-by-side triples," Peterson said.

Also in Ellenton, Danny O'Shea, the 2008 U.S. novice men's champion, formed a new partnership with Tarah Kayne.

Last season, O'Shea competed in junior pairs with Christine Mozer. This is the first partnership for Kayne, a junior ladies competitor the last several seasons.

"Christine and Danny were doing very well; they won their sectionals, but Christine had an injury and they had to withdraw from nationals, which was a real shame," Peterson said. "She was accepted at Dartmouth [College] and deferred a year to skate last season. It was a real positive having her here, and we wish her well."

The new team is training to compete at the senior level and plans to debut this summer.

"They had one of the best tryouts I've seen since [2010 U.S. champions] Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett," Peterson said. "She has worked here for a few months with Jeremy and Mark Ladwig on pair moves and taken through her novice tests. She will take the rest of her tests next month.

"Tarah and Danny have solid jumps and throws and a soft, balletic line, so we're very excited."