Roster for U.S. Nationals Set at Sectional Championships


Pacific Coast ladies field highlight of busy American skating weekend; skaters at three Sectional competitions qualify for Nationals.

For much of America’s figure skating community, this was the biggest week of the fall. While the country’s top skaters compete abroad, guaranteed a place at U.S. Nationals in January due to either a top five finish last year or a bye due to a conflicting international assignment, the rest of the contenders for the Nationals roster gathered in Indian Trail, North Carolina, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Salt Lake City, Utah for the Eastern, Midwestern, and Pacific Coast Sectional Championships. The singles skaters to make it here have already finished in the top four of one of the nine regional competitions, or were byed. For the pairs and ice dance teams, this is the first and last stage of qualifying. The top four in each discipline at each of the five levels make it to Nationals. Each podium even has four spots, with a pewter medal for fourth place.

Throughout the years, at the senior and junior levels, the level of quality and number of skaters in the singles competitions, especially the ladies, have varied widely. Unfortunately, right now, when the level of American ladies itself is not at it strongest, the fields at Sectionals aren’t that stacked either. Most of the pairs and ice dance fields at the top two levels are so small everyone who shows up at Sectionals qualifies for Nationals. Still, the weekend saw some impressive skating in North Carolina, Colorado, and Utah.

Eastern Sectionals

For the past three years, even when she finished second two years ago, the star of Eastern Sectionals has been Florida’s Franchesca Chiera. Fresh off her first Challenger event this fall, she won this week for the third time. In the short, after failing to do an intended triple flip-triple toe loop jump combination, she was closely tailed by two girls representing Boston, Megan Wessenberg and Rebecca Peng. Wessenberg rotated a triple toe-triple toe, though she then fell on it. Peng did a triple-double and skated clean. But Chiera pulled firmly away when she lit the arena up with her free skate, even if it wasn’t entirely clean. Wessenberg and Peng made their own mistakes, and Peng even dropped to fourth behind Katie McBeath, though this still got her through to Nationals. There was a clear divide in the scores between the medalists and the rest of the field.

With seven men competing, Easterns had the biggest senior men’s field. However, as in ladies, there was a clear divide between the top four and the other three. The short program even ended with Boston’s Kevin Shum and New York’s Jimmy Ma literally tied. Ma was the only one to land the triple axel in the short, though he underrotated and fell on his combination. Shum was a touch cleaner. He also went clean, without a triple axel, in the free. This got him the win when Ma struggled, suffering another fall and failing to do either his intended quad or more than one combination. He dropped to third behind Emmanuel Savary. The ambitious Savary went for the quadruple salchow in both programs. He fell on it in the short, but landed it and triple axel both in the free. Fourth went to a mostly well-skating Oleksiy Melnyk.

Junior ladies was another clash between Boston and New York, represented by Emma Ma and Alexia Paganini. Ma edged out the short program on presentation, though Paganini pulled off a triple lutz-triple toe. But Paganini edged ahead for gold in the free, where Ma suffered a fall. The junior men’s competition started with five competitors, but the lowest-ranking one withdrew before the free. After initially being in second after the short, Florida’s William Hubbart came back to win with a clean and excellent free skate.

There were three senior pairs and two senior dance teams. 2014 Olympian Nathan Batholomay and his new partner Deanna Stellato Dudek won a messy competition by getting credit for the most technical content, although none of their side by side jumps were clean. In the dance, newly senior Julia Biechler & Damian Dodge did quite well for themselves, breaking 60 in the short dance, 90 in the free dance, and 150 overall to win over the only other entry. Second-generation pairs skater Gabriella Marvaldi and her partner Daniel Villeneuve won a six-team and also somewhat messy junior pairs competition on both technical content and presentation scores. New juniors Caroline & Gordon Green dominated a four-team junior dance competition, with JGP alums Chloe Lewis & Logan Bye skating way below par.

View full results here.

Midwestern Sectionals

There were three senior ladies in Colorado Springs, Michigan’s Hannah Miller, Texan Amber Glenn, and home skater Tessa Hong, who were at a level where it would be a severe disappointment if they didn’t make Nationals. But after the short Glenn was down in fifth thanks to a disastrous lutz. Miller led, with Hong in third. But Hong and Glenn went one-two in the free skate, allowing Hong to win and Glenn to pull up to bronze. Hong especially impressed, landing two triple-triples, including a triple lutz-triple toe, which Glenn also landed while skating clean. Miller, lacking these harder elements and making more than one major error, settled for silver. Poor Emily Chan, who had been in second, had a disastrous free and dropped to fifth, behind Ashley Shin, who despite some mistakes herself held on to pewter and the final spot to Nationals.

The six senior men were on three tiers of ability. On the top tier, Illinois’ Jordan Moeller and Minnesota’s Alexander Johnson battled for gold. Johnson took an eleven point lead after the short, where he landed his triple axel while Moeller fell on his. But Moeller managed to make up the gap and edge out the gold by nearly two points when Johnson had a very bad free skate, where he landed only two clean triples. On the second tier, Dennis Phan and Sebastien Payannet did not have the ability to come near gold or silver, but nor did they have any trouble taking the other two spots to Nationals over the last two skaters.

The junior ladies was a battle of the Texan Ashleys. Ashley Kim won the short program by virtue of a triple flip-triple toe, despite a fall. But in the free, though she landed the triple-triple again, she also fell twice. Meanwhile Ashley Lin came back with a very good free program, was the only competitor to break 100 in the segment, and won by a comfortable margin. In the seven-skater junior men’s competition, home skater Camden Pulkinen won a close battle with Kelvin Li of Illinois, going for the triple axel in both programs and landing it in the free skate.

There were only two senior pairs. One of them didn’t even do most of their elements, something teams will do sometimes if they know they only have to show up to make Nationals, especially if they’re dealing with injuries. Jacquelyn Green & Rique Newby-Estrella thereby won by default, even though they most did doubles. Technically there was a senior dance competition, but it only had one team. In a four-team junior pairs field, Nica Digerness & Danny Neudecker won when the more accomplished Lindsey Weinstein & Jacob Simon also failed to do multiple elements. The junior dance competition was also a four-team affair, won narrowly by Diana Avaz & Val Katsman.

View full results here.

Pacific Coast Sectionals

By far the biggest name competing at Sectionals was Caroline Zhang. Once considered the next big star, she has struggled in recent years, and missed last season while recovering from hip surgery. However, she impressed while winning Southwest Pacific Regionals, and came here looking good. But also in the field and on home ice was Angela Wang. Now recovered the ankle injury that cost her a Grand Prix appearance, she too came looking to make a statement.

In the short program Zhang went for her signature triple loop-triple loop. She landed it, but not without a swerve between the jumps. With a triple flip-triple toe and a flawless skate Wang took an eight-point lead. That ultimately proved too much for Zhang to make up, but she won the free skate with a clean and graceful program where she nailed the triple loop-triple loop in the back half. Wang skated well herself, but made some mistakes in her second half. It was an impressive competition all together. Bronze medalist Livvy Shilling delivered a good free skate that included a triple flip-loop-triple salchow. Pewter medalist Paige Rydberg managed a triple toe-triple toe in her short, though her free had some doubled jumps.

The senior men’s competition had five skaters, with one of them being much weaker than the other four, eliminating suspense. Noone skated a clean short. Orange Country’s Sean Rabbitt, the best performer in the field and a fan favorite, took the lead on his presentation scores over Los Angeles’ Shotaro Omori, and would hold him off to win by a point. Omori won the free skate, however, with a high quality skate. He landed the triple axel in both programs, the only one of the five to land it at all. Bronze medalist Scott Dyer of would also have a strong free skate, both technically and artistically, despite a couple of doubles. Pewter medalist Daniel Kulenkamp was a bit weaker.

The junior ladies’ title was a battle between Kaitlyn Nguyen, and Starr Andrews, both from LA. Both managed a triple lutz-triple toe in their short, but Andrews she singled her axel, while Nguyen skated clean. Andrews won the free, landing a triple salchow-triple toe-double toe, while Nguyen failed to manage her own big ticket element. But Nguyen like Rabbitt just held on overall. Down below them, pewter went to a certain Elizaveta Kulik, daughter of famous champions Ilia Kulik and Ekaterina Gordeeva. There were eleven junior men. None of the other ten matched Eric Sjoberg, also from LA, who skated two mostly-clean programs to win. Painfully, another fan favorite, Chase Belmontes, suffered a disastrous short program, and despite a fourth-place free only pulled up to fifth, missing Nationals by less than a point.

Sectionals don’t actually have to hold a competition in a category if there are less than five entries. At Pacific Coast Sectionals, one senior pair and one senior dance team elected to skate their frees in exhibition, but there were no competitions in these categories. Alexandria Yao & Austin Hale beat five other junior pairs. They only did doubles, but nailed their free program, which allowed them to run away with it even though they’d only been a point ahead after the short. Alina Efimova & Alexander Petrov won a two-team junior dance competition. For them it was the other way around; they had a large margin in the short dance and a very small one in the free.

View full results here.

Next: Cup of China is its Usual Trainwreck

The U.S. National Figure Skating Championships take place January 14-22, in Kansas City, Missouri.