Thursday, January 21, 2016

2016 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships: Previews/Predictions Part 1

Hey! Welcome back to State of the Skate! Say, did you know 2016 U.S. Nationals are underway?

Of course you did. I'm just messing with you. Anyway, the Pairs SP is up first-- as usual-- so here's a few words and predictions about all of that:


GOLD: Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim
SILVER: Tarah Kayne/Daniel O’Shea
BRONZE: Madeline Aaron/Max Settlage
PEWTER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran

Dark Horse: Jessica Calalang/Zack Sidhu

Even with two teams scratching (Donlan/Bartholomay and reigning silver medalists Denney/Frazier), this year’s pairs field is a little bigger than last year’s. Trouble is, I feel like I barely know what’s happening with any of them. Sci/Kni seem to be a lock for gold this year, especially with Denney/Frazier gone. Kayne/O’Shea have had a pretty good season thus far—1st at the U.S. Classic and 4th at Rostelecom among the highlights—so I’ve got them making the move from bronze to silver this year. The rest is kind of a crap shoot... Aaron/Settlage had to scratch from their only GP assignment, Castelli/Tran are improving rapidly but still had a ways to go last time I saw them (4th at Skate Canada), and Calalang/Sidhu could only manage 7th place at NHK. So consider all those placements sheer guesswork!

As for the nine teams that got here by way of Sectionals—I tried to watch all of them via IceNetwork, but couldn’t locate four of the teams (!!). And the five I DID see were not particularly noteworthy—not in a good way, at least!

So when it comes to new teams, I’ll just call out two of ‘em: Chelsea Liu/Brian Johnson, who skated the JGP circuit this past fall (and had a BYE from Sectionals for that reason I think) and have “good speed and energy” with their Beauty and the Beast program... and Caitlin Fields/Ernie Utah Stevens, who didn’t have a great skate at Midwestern Sectionals but won Junior Nationals last year, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Also I’m giving them a “homer” vote because they skate out of the Indianapolis area (and Stevens is (or was?) a Butler University student)!

VETERAN OF THE FIELD: 25 year-old Castelli, who first competed senior Nats in 2010 with Simon Shnapir. But to be fair her current partner (Tran, also 25) is even more of a veteran, considering he first competed in a senior nats (for Japan, with Narumi Takahashi) back in 2008!


GOLD: Gracie Gold
SILVER: Ashley Wagner
BRONZE: Polina Edmunds
PEWTER: Courtney Hicks

Dark Horse: Karen Chen
“Nowhere” Lady: Tyler Pierce

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that this is the exact same gold-to-pewter set of predictions I made last year. That’s not by mistake. This time, I’m saying “Gracie for Gold” because I’ve grown concerned about Wagner’s ability, of late, to deliver back-to-back great skates. While I’m not convinced Gold will skate either program clean, I’m better the sum of her mistakes will be slightly less than whichever program Wagner might bungle (FWIW I’m guessing that will be the long... I just don’t know that she can come close to her Nats performance of essentially the same Moulin Rouge free skate of 2015.) But, having said all that, keep in mind that I’ve gotten this particular prediction correct only ONE TIME in the past five years!

As for Bronze, Pewter, and my DH pick, the thinking goes like this:
+      both Edmunds and Hicks have been stronger so far this year (with Hicks picking up her first GP medal!) but I tend to think Edmunds is both more fluid and more consistent... so long as she fully rotates her jumps.
+      Hicks’ jumps are FIERCE but she’s had issues with her combo jumps in particular. (As in, not really combo jumps.)
+      While Chen has been OK in the first half of the season, I don’t really see her improving (or “keeping up”?) enough to get another podium finish. BUT she’s proven she’s capable...

And I’ve got Pierce as a coming out of “nowhere” for a top-6 finish because based on what I saw last year and this year. I started this prediction last year and didn’t do well with it, so I won’t talk more about it unless I happen to be right this time... heh heh.

OTHER LADIES RETURNING WITH A “BYE” (as in by-passing Sectionals): Mariah Bell, Hannah Miller, Mirai Nagasu, and Angela Wang.

MISSING IN ACTION? Last year’s 12th place finisher Leah Keiser. If you know what she’s up to (injured, taking a break, full-time college, etc.) please share in the comments!

OTHERS RETURNING VIA SECTIONALS: Ashley Cain, Francesca Chiera, Christina Cleveland, Katie McBeath, Maria Yang

ROOKIES to the senior ranks this year are Alexis Gagnon, Carly Gold (aka Gracie’s redheaded sister), Avery Kurtz, Alexie Mieskoski, Heidi Munger, Elena Pulkinen, and Bradie Tennell (last year’s Junior Champ—watch for her!)

VETERANS: Both Wagner (age 24) and Mirai Nagasu (age 22) have competed at senior Nats since 2008!

See you on Twitter, I hope...? More predictions coming Friday of course! 

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