The junior pairs short program did not give a clear indication of which teams are truly in the hunt for the title, as the top seven teams are separated from each other by just four points heading into the freeskate.
Ashley Cain, 15, and Joshua Reagan, 21, lead the pack, attempting to make the rare jump from novice national champions to junior national champion in one season. Cain and Reagan hold a slim .23 points lead over the new team of Cassie Andrews and Timothy Leduc.
“We’ve just worked really hard since Nationals last year, and we knew that everybody was gunning for us now,” Reagan explained. “We got some experience with international competitions, and we were able to use that today in this competition.”
The 2010 Novice Champions appeared strong and confident throughout their Matrix program, and opened with a strong throw triple toe loop that set the tone for the entire program.
“The last couple of competitions, I’ve always touched down or flipped out of the throw,” Cain said after their program. “I decided that if we are going to do it here at Nationals, that I’d better land it. I landed it, and it felt great.”
Coached by Cain’s parents and International Skating Union Technical Specialist David Kirby, the duo attacked each element with gusto, and looked relaxed heading into their side-by-side double axels.
“We just skated around the rink for the first two minutes of the warm up, and everything felt really great,” Cain stated confidently. “We feel like we are ready here, and we want to show everybody what we can do.”
Cain, who is currently in seventh place in the junior ladies competition, and Reagan, a former state champion swimmer, earned 47.63 points for their short program.
“Balancing the two disciplines helps me to calm my nerves, and helps with a lot with our jumps,” Cain explained.
Reagan added, “I don’t swim anymore, but I still do the workouts in the gym that I did for swimming. I guess that helps me in keeping in shape for skating.”
Andrews and Leduc, who just paired up in April, made a small mistake on their throw triple toe loop, but made up for it by earning high levels on their other elements. Their score of 47.40 sets them up nicely for a run at their first national title on Friday.
“We’re a new team, and we’re just happy to be here,” Leduc said rather modestly. “I think we have a very bright future in American pairs skating, so I think that this is a very good start for us.”
Skating to Bond’s Big Love Adagio, seventeen-year-old Andrews and twenty-year-old Leduc have a striking look on the ice, and used their long lines to their advantage.
“It was very exciting to be out there,” Duarte quietly shared. “We’re happy to be here.”
Finishing in third place was fifteen-year-old Kylie Duarte and nineteen-year-old Colin Grafton, the 2010 US novice pewter medalists. The duo skated to Peter Gabriel’s The Feeling Begins, and opened with a nice set of double Axels.
“I was a little nervous up to the point when I stepped on the ice,” Grafton admitted. “Then I felt the energy of the crowd, and it helped me out and calmed me down. We have experience from the Junior Grand Prix this season, so that also helped us to chill out and relax.”
Instead of a throw triple toe loop like the leaders completed, Duarte and Grafton opted for a double. In their eighth year of competing together, the team was rewarded for presenting an elegant and somewhat mysterious picture. Their total of 45.35 points keeps them in the hunt for the title.
“Our coach (Dalilah Sappenfield) has helped us to learn how to mentally prepare for competition,” Duarte shared. “We started skating with her last summer, and it really has helped us to become better skaters. We train six days a week instead of four like we used to. It’s a very encouraging environment.”
After finishing fifth in this competition last season, Brynn Carman and A.J. Reiss finished in fourth with their Two Can Jazz routine. Their program did not have the technical content of those placed ahead of them, but each element was rewarded with positive grades of execution. Carman and Reiss finished with a total of 45.26 points in the short program.
Mandy Garza and Brandon Frazier finished in fifth place with 44.84 points, while Andrea Proapst and Christopher Knierim earned 44.34 points and stand in sixth. Just behind them in seventh place are Jessica Noelle Calayang and Zack Sidhu with 43.63 points.