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Castelli, Shnapir strut their stuff, open up big lead

Next five teams separated by just 2.35 points

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir are way out ahead of the field after the short.
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir are way out ahead of the field after the short. (Jay Adeff)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/24/2013) - Playing the unaccustomed role of favorites at the U.S. championships, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir could have let the pressure seep into their skating and miss a step or two in their do-or-die "Stray Cat Strut" short program.

They didn't.

From their big opening triple twist, to clean side-by-side triple Salchows, on through to a huge throw triple Salchow, they showed all the balance and agility -- not to mention grit -- of stray cats.

They lacked a bit of unison on their side-by-side spins but capped the program with the finest step sequence and death spiral of the evening, earning 62.27 points to open a nine-point lead over the field.

Despite the clean skate, both skaters fessed up to being as nervous as cats.

"We did all of our elements, but I think we were both nervous and jumpy and off our feet a little bit," Castelli, 22, said.

"This is a high-intensity program; it's a fun program, so I think coupled with a little bit of nervousness, we really got going right from the get-go," Shapir, 25, said. "We had a couple of bobbles here and there, but, overall, we were happy with what we put out there."

Although the withdrawal of U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, due to Coughlin's hip surgery, has thrust them into the spotlight, the skaters -- who have yet to medal at a U.S. championships at the senior level -- have tried mightily to keep their eyes on the prize.

"There is always something going on around us," Shnapir said. "For us, it's just focusing on getting our job done day in and day out and coming here and showcasing what we do every day in practice. That's really our focus, and we try not to think about other things."

Bobby Martin, who coaches the team at Skating Club of Boston, likes that kind of talk.

"They were fighters today, and that's a huge step," said Martin, who coaches the skaters at Skating Club of Boston. "They tried to do what they've been doing every day in practice. I don't think they felt particularly on top of themselves, but the way [the program] came out shows more about them than if they had an easy skate."

In the battle for silver, just 2.35 points separate the next five teams.

Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay, who train in Florida under a group headed by Jim Peterson, had a solid skate to the Cocoon soundtrack, landing a throw triple Lutz and capping the program with a fine lift.

Zhang had a shaky landing on the triple toe, and the team earned just Level 1 for the death spiral, but they still amassed 53.19 points.

"We felt really good," Bartholomay said. "We've been working on having a calm aggression in [performing] that program, and I we tried to drive that home today."

"We had a little mistake here and there, but we got done what we had to get done," Zhang said.

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim opened their short with a spectacular triple twist that gained +2 and +3 GOEs (grades of execution) from the judges, but Scimeca turned out of the landing of a throw triple flip and Knierim fell on a triple Salchow.

They recovered with a strong lift and fine death spiral, and earned 52.79 points.

"We were happy with our performance," said Scimeca, who moved to Colorado Springs to team with Knierim seven months ago. "We made two pretty big errors, but we're still a new team."

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who recently moved from Colorado Springs to train in Florida under three-time U.S. pairs champion John Zimmerman, skated a stylish program to Spanish music.

Frazier, however, popped an intended triple Salchow into a single, and they sit fourth with 52.48 points.

Lindsay Davis and Mark Ladwig, who teamed up last June, are also still in the hunt after skating a clean program including triple Salchows and a throw triple Salchow.

Low levels on the death spiral and step sequence hurt their score, and they are fifth with 51.65 points.

"It felt good, a very steady skate. We really attacked the elements," Ladwig said. "I know there were a lot of points technically left on the table. It's more about a smooth and clean skate than the levels."

"It's nice to know that after seven months we're putting out pretty decent skates for ourselves," Davis said. "It's just continuous work on everything that will bring us higher and higher."

DeeDee Leng and Timothy LeDuc skated a speedy program highlighted by solid triple toe loops and sit sixth with 50.84 points.