Chock and Zuerlein win Junior dance title at US Nationals

Madison Chock, 16, and Greg Zuerlein, 20, swept all three phases of the Junior Ice Dance event to win the title.

Madison Chock (All Year FSC) and Greg Zuerlein (Arctic FSC) continued their winning ways, making it a clean sweep of all three phases of the Junior Dance event, earning the Junior National Championship title over their training mates Maia Shibutani (SC of New York) and Alex Shibutani (Arctic FSC).

The gold medalists, who have won every competition that they have entered this season, skated a haunting program to music from The Phantom of the Opera. Throughout the routine, Chock (16) and Zuerlein (20) made each move important and earned positive grades of execution (GOE) on each required element.

“It went well,” Chock said confidently. “We really connected with each other.”

The reigning Junior Grand Prix Final Champions were rewarded with a level four on two of their lifts, their opening dance spin, and on their twizzle sequence.

“It felt much better than in the OD,” said Zuerlein. “My legs were underneath me. It’s exciting to win this competition with a good performance.”

Looking ahead, Chock and Zuerlein hope to be named to the team that will represent the U.S. at the Junior World Championships.

“We want to place in the top three at Junior Worlds,” Chock explained. “We want to enjoy what we do, and that usually shows in our performance.”

With a free dance total of 82.02 points, Chock and Zuerlein earned a competition total of 167.81 points, easily outpacing the silver medalists for the win.

The Shibutanis skated a light-hearted program to Ennio Morricone’s Cinema Paradiso, and looked like seasoned veterans even though they are only 14 (Maia) and 17 (Alex) years-old.

Like their training mates, the Shibutanis earned the coveted level four on four different elements, but they incurred a one-point deduction when Maia fell on their twizzle sequence. In this very tight race for gold, the fall took the Shibutanis out of the running for the title early in their program, and they had to fight through the rest of the program.

“Everyone makes mistakes and has an off day,” said Maia. “I’m still happy about the performance, and it’s just something to learn from in the future.”

The Shibutanis earned 76.35 points for their free dance, and a competition total of 161.03 points. Like Chock and Zuerlein, the silver medalists hope to be selected for the Junior World Team.

“That would be great,” Alex admitted. “We think that we will be staying junior for at least another season, and to go to the Junior Worlds would be another great experience in our development.”

Finishing in third place in their first season together was Piper Gilles (Broadmoor SC) and Zachary Donohue (Broadmoor SC), who skated a zesty samba number that the crowd really enjoyed.

“This is definitely a great way to end the season,” said Gilles. “We had a nice connection with the audience, and this program allows us to entertain the audience and ourselves, so it was really fun to perform.”

Gilles, last year’s silver medalist with another partner, has been nursing a groin injury that caused the team to withdraw from the Junior Grand Prix Final in December. However, there were no signs of the injury in this dance as the bronze medalists earned a level four on five different elements in their program.

“It’s definitely a little more nerve-racking when you compete with an injury,” confessed 17-year-old Gilles. “You always wonder if your leg is going to hold up. But we supported each other and put out a program that we can be proud of.”

Donohue, 18, who is competing in his first nationals with Gilles, was just happy with the experience. “This was a blast. I will take a bronze medal at my first Nationals. I can’t complain.”

With a free dance total of 74.27 points, Gilles and Donohue earned a competition total of 151.10 points, six points ahead of the pewter medalists Shannon Wingle (Arctic FSC) and Timothy McKernan (Broadmoor SC).

Isabella Cannuscio (University of Delaware FSC) and Ian Lorello (University of Delaware FSC) finished in fifth place with 144.80 points, while Rachel Tibbets (Broadmoor SC) and Collin Brubaker (All Year FSC) slipped to sixth overall (143.20 points).

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