2017 US Nationals Field Guide: Junior Ice Dance

The 9th-best American dance team is better than most countries’ 2nd-best team. Enjoy your ice dance golden age, America.

It’s part 3 of my comprehensive Nationals field guide series, and I’m still at the point where I think I’m going to get all of these done before the competition starts. (Shut up; I’m cute when I’m ambitious.) If you’re just joining me now, take a minute to check out my overly enthusiastic Junior Men’s Field Guide and, especially, my Junior Ladies’ Field Guide, which explains the four-point rating system I’m using to loosely predict how each skater will rank. My purpose here is to highlight every athlete in the event, from the big names to those who just barely qualified, so that when you watch next week, you know who everyone is. Sometimes we forget, watching the skaters at the low end of the standings, how hard it is to put in the hours and pass the skills tests necessary to compete as a junior or senior at a National Figure Skating Championships in a talent-rich country like the United States.

In ice dance – this year and most years – if you have a partner, a set of programs, and the ability to complete a set of twizzles without dying, you’ll get to Nationals. But implicitly, the bar is a bit higher than that, since America’s top contenders in junior dance are among the best in the world. The less accomplished teams might not be anywhere close to the same level of difficulty and performance quality as the medalists – in fact, their combined scores probably won’t reach the scores that McNamara & Carpenter or Parsons & Parsons earn in the free dance alone – but the 9th-best American dance team is better than most countries’ 2nd-best team. Enjoy your ice dance golden age, America.

Elizabeth Addas & Michael Valdez

The Basics: Addas and Valdez teamed up in 2016 and are coached by Christine Binder. Both represent the All Year Figure Skating Club in the Los Angeles area. They’ve both competed with several partners before teaming up; Addas most recently skated with Jonathan Schultz, and Valdez with Rachel Brozina. Addas is 17 years old, and Valdez is 19.

Season So Far: Addas and Valdez began their season – and their career as a team – by competing only in the short dance segment at the Chesapeake Open; they placed 5th, in the lower half of the rankings. They landed toward the bottom again at the Lake Placid International Championships, 9th in the short dance and 11th in the free dance. The trend continued at Dance Chicago, where they placed 6th in the short dance and 5th in the free dance. At the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, things looked up with a 3rd-place short dance, although they dropped to 5th in the free dance. Addas and Valdez performed their best free dance so far at Pacific Coast Sectionals, but it was only enough for 2nd place of the two teams competing there.

Outlook for Nationals: Addas and Valdez have done an admirable job of building their technical difficulty and on-ice chemistry throughout the season, but they’re finding themselves outclassed by most of the teams they’ll face. They especially have trouble maintaining high levels on their step sequences and pattern dances. Level 4’s on their twizzles and lifts are excellent signs of their potential growth for the future, and Addas in particular has delightful charisma and presence. They’re Just Happy to Be Here this year, although a strong enough result will work wonders to solidify their partnership for the seasons to come.

Diana Avaz & Val Katsman

The Basics: Avaz and Katsman are another brand new team, together as of 2016. He’s 17; I’m not sure of her age. He represents the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs, and she the Detroit Skating Club. Katsman has had a number of previous partners, most recently Heidi Washburn, and Avaz briefly skated with Ross Gudis. They train in Detroit with Natalia Annenko Deller.

Season So Far: Avaz and Katsman competed for the first time together at Dance Chicago and won the short dance, but they sank to 6th in the free dance and overall. They had similar struggles at Midwestern Sectionals, starting with a strong short dance but suffering a freakish fall in the free dance. In spite of that mistake, they won both segments and a gold medal at their first Sectionals together.

Outlook for Nationals: It’s hard to make predictions about a team so new that they’ve only competed together twice, but things look great for Avaz and Katsman so far. They look like a natural fit as a team, already skating close together and matching their extensions well. Avaz and Katsman also have their pattern dances down cold, which is why they’ve been posting such strong scores in the short dance. They need more time to develop their consistency and their chemistry before they become real contenders, but they’re On the Rise already.

Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko

The Basics: Carreira and Ponomarenko are both 16 years old. They’ve been skating together since 2014. Before that, Carreira represented Canada with Simon-Pierre Mallette-Paquette, while Ponomarenko skated with Sarah Feng. She’s originally from Montreal, and he from San Jose, but they now train in Novi, Michigan, with Igor Shpilband. Carreira belongs to the Skating Club of New York, and Ponomarenko to the Skating Club of San Francisco.

Season So Far: Carreira and Ponomarenko have been ascending the international ranks for some time, but this season confirmed them as rising stars. They demolished the field at the Chesapeake Open, winning by over 16 points. At the Lake Placid Championships, they struggled uncharacteristically in the short dance but rebounded with a terrific free dance score, placing second behind McNamara and Carpenter. From there, it was on to the Junior Grand Prix, where they placed second in both of their events, St. Gervais and Saransk. They were especially stunning at the latter, earning high grades of execution for their beautiful lifts and interpreting their haunting free dance with impressive maturity. At the Junior Grand Prix Final, they looked a little nervous, but their efforts were good enough for 4th place, only about 3 points shy of the podium.

Outlook for Nationals: It’s a bummer for Carreira and Ponomarenko that McNamara/Carpenter and Parsons/Parsons decided to spend one more year in juniors, because if those teams had moved up, these two would have had it in the bag. As it stands, they’re a little less experienced and a little less polished than those teams, and it shows in their lower components scores as well as their struggle to earn top levels for their step sequences. In a year or two, they’ll be exceptional, but right now, they’re still growing. That said, they’re miles better than any other team their age – not only in America but in the world – and will have no trouble blazing ahead of the majority of the field, both technically and artistically. They’re the strongest Dark Horses of this event.

Alina Efimova & Alexander Petrov

The Basics: Efimova is 15 years old, and Petrov is 18. They’re yet another brand new team, together since 2016; Efimova had previously partnered with Kyle MacMillan, and Petrov had been off the radar for a couple of years after splitting with Katherine Gourianova. She represents the Peninsula Skating Club in San Jose, California, and he represents the Hershey Figure Skating Club in Pennsylvania. They train with Nathan Truesdell and Natalia Efimova. Petrov is a totally different person from the guy with the same name who skates men’s singles for Russia.

Season So Far: Efimova and Petrov worked throughout the summer to solidify their partnership, with steady improvement in their results. They competed only their free dance at the Chesapeake Open, placing 7th in the segment, then moved up to 5th overall in a tough field at the Lake Placid Championships. At Dance Chicago, they placed an impressive 2nd in the short dance, and although they were only 4th in the free dance, their overall score was good enough for a silver medal. Another silver came their way at the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, where they placed 2nd in both segments. These results gave them significant momentum going into Pacific Coast Sectionals, and they won gold. It was a field of two, but they also outscored all four teams at Midwesterns.

Outlook for Nationals: After years of partner hopping, Efimova and Petrov might have finally found a match. They have a pleasing connection to one another, and they’re terrific twizzlers. They’re still working the technical bugs out elsewhere, though, and it’s likely they’ll need another season together before they really get into a groove. Still, of the new teams striving to make a mark in Kansas City, they’re the best situated to pull off a spoiler. It will be nearly impossible for them to reach the podium, but they might give some better established teams a run for their money. Efimova and Petrov are On the Rise.

Lydia Erdman & Alexey Shchepetov

The Basics: Erdman is 17 years old, and Shchepetov is 19. They’ve been skating together since 2015 and train with Slava Uchitel in Philadelphia. Erdman represents the Arctic Figure Skating Club outside Detroit and skated singles for a number of years before forming her first competitive ice dance partnership with Shchepetov. He represents the Philadelphia Skating Club & Humane Society and previously skated with Sammi Wren.

Season So Far: After a promising debut season, Erdman and Shchepetov had to withdraw from 2016 Nationals at the last minute, and they had a slightly later start to their 2016-17 season than most of the other teams. They began at Dance Chicago with a shaky 5th-place short dance, but turned out a great 2nd-place free dance and earned an overall bronze medal. Their experience at Midwestern Sectionals was the opposite, with a solid short dance and a nightmare of a free dance that included a fall. Nonetheless, they skated well enough to earn silver there.

Outlook for Nationals: Erdman and Shchepetov are magnetic performers, and they won my heart when I watched them in person at Dance Chicago. However, their technical inconsistency drags them down. It’s great that they push themselves with difficult content, and if they pull it all together at Nationals, they could earn a surprisingly high score. Judging from their results so far, though, it’s more likely that they’re Just Happy to Be Here this time around.

Caroline Green & Gordon Green

The Basics: The Greens are siblings; she’s 13 and he’s 15. They’ve skated together throughout their career, since 2010, at the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (WISA) in Maryland, coached by Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, and Dmitri Ilin. They both represent the Washington Figure Skating Club.

Season So Far: Caroline is too young to compete internationally as a junior, but Green and Green have nevertheless been barnstorming junior ice dance domestically. They began with a silver medal at the Chesapeake Open and continued with a 2nd-place short program at the Lake Placid Championships that beat even Carreira and Ponomarenko’s. They wound up 3rd in the free skate and overall in Lake Placid. At the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, they broke 60 points in the short dance for the first time and won again, in a class by themselves. In the autumn, the Greens won their first international gold, competing novice at the NRW Trophy in Germany. They beat the 2nd-place team by almost 18 points. They dominated again at Eastern Sectionals, winning by a 13-point margin and routing several teams with extensive junior-level international experience.

Outlook for Nationals: It’s no surprise that Green and Green have performed so well in their junior debut. They’ve won Nationals at lower levels every year since 2013, starting as juveniles and working their way up to back-to-back novice titles in 2015 and 2016. Their streak is almost certain to end in 2017, as they don’t have the spectacular power and intricacy of the teams at the top. They are more than capable of reaching the podium, though, and they won’t remain Dark Horses for long.

Eliana Gropman & Ian Somerville

The Basics: Gropman is 15 years old, and Somerville is 16. They’ve skated together since 2008 and have never partnered with anyone else. Although they’ve trained together at WISA in Maryland for years, Gropman maintains an affiliation with the Pavilion Skating Club of Cleveland Heights in Ohio; Somerville is a member of the Washington Figure Skating Club. Their coaches are Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, and Dmitri Ilin.

Season So Far: Gropman and Somerville began with a low-scoring 6th-place free dance at the Chesapeake Open and followed that with a disappointing 4th-place short dance and a great 2nd-place free dance at the Lake Placid International Championships. At the Cannon Texas Open, they placed a narrow second to Gunter and Wein. At Junior Grand Prix St. Gervais, they struggled with their pattern dances in the short dance and with program components scores throughout, settling for 9th place. They earned far better scores at their other international event, the NRW Trophy, placing 5th overall but performing the 3rd-best free dance. At Eastern Sectionals, they tied Gunter and Wein for second in the short dance but ultimately earned the bronze medal, falling behind in the free dance by about a point.

Outlook for Nationals:  Gropman and Somerville looked like the next big thing last season, but they’ve struggled to post competitive scores this year. They’re terrific fun to watch, both in their boy-band-themed short dance and their Le Petit Prince free dance, but they don’t have the speed or transitions to keep up in components. Their technical elements, on the other hand, are terrific: despite Somerville’s small stature, he’s an amazingly strong and secure partner in lifts and spins. I’d hoped to see them transform into dark horses this season, but they’re still On the Rise at this point.

Emma Gunter and Caleb Wein

The Basics: Gunter is 14 years old, and Wein is 15. They’ve been skating together since 2012. Wein partnered briefly with Katherine Gourianova before that, but he’s Gunter’s only significant competitive partner. Like so many others in this field, they train at WISA in Maryland with Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, and Dmitri Ilin. Both belong to the Washington Figure Skating Club.

Season So Far: Gunter and Wein started their season in 5th place at the Chesapeake Open. They enjoyed their first career junior-level win at the Cannon Texas Open, edging out their training mates, Gropman and Somerville. At the Lake Placid International Championships, they slid behind, finishing 7th. They were 7th again at their Junior Grand Prix debut, in Yokohama, and yet again at the NRW Trophy. But they snuck into the silver medal position at Eastern Sectionals, with the judges giving them the edge in program components for performance and interpretation.

Outlook for Nationals: Coming off a novice silver medal at last season’s Nationals, Gunter and Wein might have hoped to make a big splash in juniors. Instead, they got a growth and development year that placed them neck and neck with Gropman and Somerville. They boast beautiful lines and a balletic skating style, not to mention killer twizzles, but they can fall prey to awkwardness in their transitions. They’re not quite ready for a podium finish this season, but they’re On the Rise to become a far more polished team in years to come.

Cassidy Klopstock & Jacob Schedl

The Basics: Klopstock is 18 years old, and Schedl is 21. Like so many other teams this season, they’ve only been skating together since 2016, although both have had several partners before. Klopstock most recently partnered with Jonathan Thompson; Schedl competed at Nationals last year with Rebecca Lucas. They train at the University of Delaware with Christie Moxley-Hutson. Schedl belongs to the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club, and Klopstock represents the Centennial 7K Skating Club in Colorado Springs.

Season So Far: Klopstock and Schedl competed for the first time together at Dance Chicago and placed 7th in both segments. At the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, they performed only their short dance, placing 4th in the segment. They raised their scores significantly at Midwestern Sectionals, where they won a bronze medal.

Outlook for Nationals: Having watched all 13 teams, I can say without a doubt that Klopstock and Schedl look like they’re having the most fun of anybody. Their technical skills are among the lowest in the field, and they’re not the sharp, charismatic performers that some of their competitors have learned to be. Instead, the joy of being on the ice together exudes from them with every move. They are Just Happy to Be Here in the purest sense, and that makes them a pleasure to watch, even though they’re all but guaranteed to place toward the bottom of the standings.

Chloe Lewis and Logan Bye

The Basics: Lewis is 16 years old, and Bye is 18. They’ve been skating together since 2010. Bye had a few brief partnerships before teaming with Lewis, but for all intents and purposes, they’ve been together for their entire career. They train in Michigan with Igor Shpilband, although Lewis represents the All Year Figure Skating Club in the Los Angeles area, and Bye is a member of the Skating Club of New York.

Season So Far: Lewis and Bye began their season with a bronze medal at the Chesapeake Open, tying Green and Green in the short dance but falling behind in the free dance. They looked much stronger at the Lake Placid International Championships, where they placed 2nd overall, although Gropman and Somerville beat them in the free dance. They struggled at their first Junior Grand Prix assignment, in Ostrava, and placed 6th, unable to complete their twizzles in either program. They recovered mightily at Junior Grand Prix Tallinn, nailing those pesky twizzles in their free skate and earning bronze, the first JGP medal of their career. Although they could have gone for easy gold at Pacific Coast Sectionals, they opted for the greater challenge at Eastern Sectionals, and the risk didn’t pay off. They fell in both programs, placing fourth of the four teams in the event.

Outlook for Nationals: When Lewis and Bye won a National novice title in 2013, they looked like the next superstars of American ice dance. Instead, they’ve turned out to be one of the most unpredictable teams in the discipline, capable of enormous scores when they get everything right, but unusually prone to major errors. This makes them hard to categorize, since they’re likely to score ahead of many teams on the rise, but they’ve fallen behind several younger teams of their caliber. Under the circumstances, it’s best to consider them Just Happy to Be Here, and to be overjoyed if they do put everything together just in time to steal a National medal.

Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter

The Basics: McNamara and Carpenter have been skating together for most of their lives, since 2006. She’s 17, and he’s 20. They train at WISA in Maryland with Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, and Dmitri Ilin. She represents the Peninsula Skating Club in San Jose, and he’s a member of the Washington Figure Skating Club.

Season So Far: Coming off a 2015-16 in which they did nothing but win, the reigning junior National and World Champions have been far less dominant this season. They posted giant scores in both segments at the Lake Placid Championships, winning the free dance alone by more than 15 points. They won both of their Junior Grand Prix events, in Ostrava and Ljubljana, despite dropping levels on many of their step sequences and suffering a serious twizzle failure in Ljubljana. At the Junior Grand Prix Final, they found themselves outclassed by their friends and training mates, Parsons & Parsons, as well as the top Russians, and settled for a bronze medal.

Outlook for Nationals: I’ve heard a variety of rumors about why McNamara and Carpenter aren’t the bulletproof superheroes of ice dance they were a year ago. Regardless of the cause, it’s clear that they haven’t been pre-anointed as repeat champions. They have one of the most unique artistic styles in ice dance, quirky and a little menacing, and they’re capable of tremendous difficulty in all of their elements. This season, however, the tiny errors have added up, not only damaging their scores but making them look less polished than in the past. With all cylinders firing, McNamara and Carpenter are the best junior-level ice dance team in the world. That makes them Front Runners, even though they’ve seldom been at their best this season.

Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons

The Basics: Rachel and Michael are 19 and 21, respectively. Although they’re sister and brother, they both skated with other people first: Rachel with Kyle MacMillan, and Michael with Kristina Rexford. They both represent the Washington Figure Skating Club and train at WISA in Maryland with Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, and Dmitri Ilin.

Season So Far: The Parsons’ season has been, in a word, spectacular. They began with a big win in both segments at the Lake Placid International Championships. Their gold collection grew at the Junior Grand Prix, with dominant victories at both Dresden and Yokohama. They faced their first real challenge at the Grand Prix Final, slipping into 2nd after the short dance behind Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd by a few tenths of a point. But they blew away the field with a career-best free dance and won, solidifying their status as the current top junior ice dance team in the world.

Outlook for Nationals: With the season they’ve had, Parsons and Parsons should be shoo-ins for a National title – their first since 2011, when they won at the novice level. Their technical content is difficult enough that it would be impressive for a senior team, and they execute their lifts with exceptional finesse and grace. They’ve also finally figured out how to express the emotions of their sibling relationship on the ice, in a pair of mesmerizing programs. But McNamara and Carpenter remain a threat, and there are no guarantees that these Front Runners will continue their undefeated season.

Heidi Washburn & Ilya Yukhimuk

The Basics: Washburn and Yukhimuk are another brand new team, pairing up in the summer of 2016. Washburn had previously skated with Val Katsman and Jeffrey Fishman; Yukhimuk has recently switched to ice dance after competing in singles for Belarus. She’s 17 years old, and he’s 19. Both represent the Detroit Skating Club, and they train with Angelika Krylova and Natalia Annenko Deller.

Season So Far: Washburn and Yukhimuk were only ready in time for one summer club competition, the Philadelphia Challenge Cup. They were near the bottom of the rankings there, with a 5th-place short dance and a 6th-place free dance. At Midwestern Sectionals, despite two solid programs and a great set of twizzles in their free dance, they placed 4th of the four teams entered.

Outlook for Nationals: Washburn and Yukhimuk have some really promising qualities – beautiful leg extension, tough twizzles that look great when they hit them – but still seem to be working out their chemistry and refining their elements. With a year of practice, they’re likely to look like a whole new team. For now, however, they’re headed to Nationals with the field’s lowest qualifying score, and it will be hard for them to close that gap. They’ve taken the courageous step of qualifying to Nationals before they’re fully cooked, and for that, I’m sure they’re Just Happy to Be Here.

The junior ice dance competition begins on Wednesday, January 18, at 8:00 PM CST, and concludes with the free skate at 10:30 AM on Friday, January 20. It will be streamed live on IceNetwork.

Next up on The Finer Sports: we move up to seniors with the Championship Ice Dance field guide!

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