Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier claimed their first national title at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday afternoon. Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran, who stood in fourth after the short program, moved up to capture the silver, while Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc slipped to third for the bronze.
Defending champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, who stood in fifth after the short program, were forced to withdraw after Kayne sustained a concussion from a fall in the short program (throw triple flip). Other withdraws included Alexandria Shaughnessy/James Morgan and Jacquelyn Green/Rique Newby-Estrella.
“We feel terrible that those teams couldn’t come here and perform,” noted Frazier. “We know how hard it is to not be able to come to the U.S. Championships. Haven and I had a plan. After Croatia, we had a couple of tough skates and it was a long process getting back that feeling of confidence. It didn’t matter who was here, we just kept the same attack and the same plan and we were just happy that we were able to fight and keep going throughout this entire week.”
“I think what you are seeing is that U.S. pairs skating is growing, they are getting stronger,” said Frazier when asked about the number of withdraws. “We are trying harder things, we are trying harder elements, harder jumps, bigger throws, bigger twists, quads for that matter. We are not getting smaller; we are getting bigger. What you see are a couple of ups and downs. This is all building for the next season to come about.”
Denney and Frazier, who have skated together since 2002, sat out last season due to Haven’s knee injury which required surgery (torn ligaments and meniscus). Their goal coming into nationals was to just skate clean, but they were rewarded more than that for their hard work. The team opened with a strong triple twist and throw triple loop in their routine to Somewhere in Time, but Denney struggled again on the side-by-side jumps (triple Salchows and double Axels) as well as the landing on the throw triple Salchow.
“Haven and I, we’re perfectionists,” said Frazier. “You should see us training. Today was about going out and we had to fight. The results are always the bonus for us, but we are excited to be out here again. We’re back. This whole season has been a comeback season and we’re just getting our feet warmed up again.”
“Things felt a little like we had to fight for them,” agreed Denney. “Sometimes we do elements that are just so easy, so of course you want that perfect performance where it feels like that at nationals. Even though it didn’t feel like that, I’m very happy we fought through it.”
Despite the mistakes, the 2015 U.S. National silver medalists showed strong level four lifts and spins. They earned 122.93 for a first place finish in the long and overall (188.32) to win the gold.
“Wow, what a feeling,” said Frazier on becoming the new champions. “A feeling I don’t think I’ve felt since the day we won Junior Worlds, but this is a feeling that I don’t think Haven and I would have ever been ready to feel because she did a tremendous job. We both went through the darkest of times in this career and sport to get to this moment. Coming to the U.S. Championships and fighting – it wasn’t perfect. We know where we still need to improve, but being able to still put out a good program and come back from a short program…”
“Brandon and I have worked so hard to be just to the point where we are now,” added Denney. “We still have so much room to grow and improve. I’m happy to know that was enough for today.”
“Haven and I plan to go to Worlds,” Frazier said, regarding the future. “We train for Worlds, we train for nationals, and for the second half of the season, obviously we just wanted everything we could have done. It wasn’t perfect, but if we get selected and our federation sees fit with us… We are excited to get back at it and put out some perfect performances for Worlds.”
“I’m just so proud of where we are right now,” said Denney. “We’ve worked so hard through our ups and downs and everything. I’m just very appreciative and blessed to be here.”
When asked if possible petition(s) could keep them off the World team, Frazier said: “We had one job today. To come here and perform and that’s all we can control. We’re absolutely happy with what we put out. I don’t want to speak for Haven or anyone else, we have to trust that our federation will do what they feel is best. If they choose us, we will do everything that we can and build stronger. If not, we will respect the decision, but we’ll have a conversation about it one way or the other.”
Castelli and Tran opened their “Journey” routine with a strong level four triple twist, but then fought with their side-by-side jumps (triple toes and triple Salchows). Castelli also two-footed the landing of a throw triple Lutz, but landed a solid throw triple Salchow. The 2016 U.S. national bronze medalists still impressed with level 4 lifts and spins, and finished second in the long program (121.99) and overall (186.28).
“We say that from the start we’ve been working really hard on the twist, and then in the short program on Thursday, it didn’t show up,” said Tran. “Today when we did it, was boom and like, finally it’s good. We’re happy to hit that Level 4 twist.”
“We’re really happy with everything that we did,” added Castelli. “We had a rough go in the short and I think it put us back a little bit, because our training was so good. But we’re really happy with what we put out today. Obviously, not all the jumps were there, but they have been there and we warm them up and we have been doing them. So we’re just happy with how the rest of the program came out and how it normally has been.”
In terms of levels, they reached their goal.
“We’re really happy that we pulled up in the long and we showed our skating and our connection on the ice, but you know, we’re not done,” said Castelli. “We’re not ready to be done, so hopefully we’ll be selected for the Four Continents team and show an even better free skate.”
Going into the free skate, they just put the short program out of their minds.
“We got on the ice and we just went and we didn’t second guess any jumps and we’d didn’t second guess any throws and we just went,” said Castelli. “We just erased it and I think that showed today that we went for everything.”
Cain and Leduc finished third (115.08) in the long and slipped from first to third overall (184.41). Their routine to “The Prayer” featured good side-by-side triple toes and two level 4 lifts, however, the team struggled on the double Axel-triple Salchows and Cain fell on a throw triple Lutz.
They accepted their performance, mindful that they have only been a team for seven months.
“Each competition is a step forward for us and we took today as an opportunity to compete in front of a big crowd and under a lot of pressure,” said LeDuc. “It’s the first time we’ve done that and we’re very happy with how we stayed connected and stayed right on track with our goals. If we had the opportunity to take that to a competition post season, we’d be very honored and galvanized.
Cain admitted that it was a difficult performance and that they were tired during the routine.
“We were pretty exhausted by the end,” she said. “I don’t think we could have given it any more. There’s definitely places to improve, but right now we’re happy. We finished, we’re here. We were in the final group and we’ll be on the podium so we can’t ask for much more at this point.”
Both skaters are feeling good about their training, revealing that they did full run-throughs of both programs every day going into this event.
“I think this was our first opportunity to skate in front of a big crowd,” said LeDuc. “I mean it’s been seven months. We’ve competed well together, but we’re still learning how to compete together. Give us time, we’ll be back, don’t worry.”
Cain agreed, adding: “We’re still learning to compete on this stage. Each of our international events were big stages, but they weren’t anything like this, with media and practices. So it’s a completely different ballgame. We’ve both been away from for a while, so I think this was a good test of our character and how we would handle it.”
“We’re very proud, that’s the first thing we said, was we’re very proud of each other,” LeDuc summed up. “We’re a team, we’re going to continue to grow together and we’ll be back.”
The skaters are hoping for a selection to the Four Continents or World team, and at the end of the season, evaluate their goals they set at the beginning to determine what they can do to set themselves farther apart from other teams and improve on their weaknesses.
“We’re very excited about where this will go in the future,” said LeDuc. “I think we showed everyone in the short program that we belong on this stage and we hope to really show that in the next season.”
“I’m so proud of my partner,” said Cain. “Throughout the whole performance we stuck together. There was a little battle in my head a of exhaustion, but every time he took my hand or I looked at him, I knew that he had me and he was going to push me, so that’s what really got me to the end. This is our seventh month together, and we’re so grateful for everybody, especially after the short program, you saw the support that we have. All the support from these athletes is incredible and you guys might not be able to see it all, but backstage it’s a pretty incredible feeling to be a part of this group.”
“Certainly, there’s a great sense of camaraderie amongst all these athletes,” LeDuc agreed. “We’ve all grown up through this sport and gone through the levels together, so it’s exciting to now be on the podium with some really great athletes, so congratulations to all of them.”
Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nathan Bartholomay, who stood in third place going into the long program, struggled with the side-by-side jumps, had a fall on throw triple loop, and a subpar triple twist. They finished fifth in the long (108.46) and dropped to fourth overall (173.50).
Nevertheless, the new team enjoyed the crowd.
“I actually love the people here,” said Stellato-Dudek. “Wherever we go they’re like, ‘Oh are you skaters?’ So I feel like this city is really behind this competition. It feels like they’re individually behind me, too, so I really love Kansas City.”
“After the short, we kind of forgot we’ve only been together for six months, so it was really challenging to be her first nationals back,” said Bartholomay. “I missed last year [and thought], ‘Oh my gosh, we’re in the final warm-up and we’re skating first, so let’s just run with it.’ Our performance was fairly strong for us and we just look forward to building on that and hopefully coming back to Kansas City, because that was fantastic. It was fun.”
Stellato felt they were most satisfied with their lifts and connection on the ice.
“We stayed determined till the end,” she said. “Our best element was probably on the very end, so we fought through the whole thing. Little disappointed with myself in my single jumps, that’s my strong suit, so I don’t like making mistakes on those, but that’s what you learn from and you take it from there.”
Bartholomay agreed. “I’m really happy with our lifting. I’m looking at the score and it looks like we got all level 4s, so I think we’re really both quite happy with that. It’s been something we’ve been posting and working on and trying to really nail down, so the pair elements is where we actually felt like we really excelled today. So that’s a personal victory for us, even though you need to skate clean in the last warm-up to move up or top that podium. We’re definitely in it for next year, that’s for sure.”
Stellato added that it was “amazing” to be back after 17 years.
“It means so much,” said the 33-year-old. “Maybe some think I’m crazy and some think it’s cool, but it’s meant a lot. There’s been a lot of love this week from U.S. Figure Skating and just from all the people in Kansas City.”
“It’s really pure joy for me,” said Bartholomay. “Like Deanna, I came back to this sport knowing that I had more to give and knowing that I had more in my heart for it. So whenever I skate, usually beforehand I think about my Dad passing away about seven or eight years ago. So I think about that. I think that my family is that I’m where I want to be. Then, just being with Deanna and having that joy on the ice, is very tremendous. So it’s a little bit overwhelming. I have to maybe learn to control it a little bit, but it feels natural.”
Jessica Pfund and Joshua Santillan moved up from seventh to fifth place (168.90), while Chelsea Liu and Brian Johnson finished sixth (199.96).