Highlights: U.S. Nationals Pairs

So, I was planning on doing full reviews for the pairs events at U.S. and Canadian Nationals. However, with snowstorms, school cancellations, and TV/IceNetwork coverage issues last week, I just wasn’t able to get to it in time! 😦 But I don’t want to neglect U.S./Canadian Nationals entirely. So here’s my take on some highlights of the U.S. Nationals pairs events. (Canadian Nationals still to come!)

My Cup Runneth Over

First off, can’t the USFSA and SkateCanada agree to hold their Nationals on two different weekends?! Having both North American Nationals on the same weekend makes it tough on us skating fans! Inevitably, I think, we wind up focusing on our own country’s event to the neglect of the other–when really, in many cases, we’d like to watch both! (Or at least parts of both.) Also, it would be really great if there were some way SkateCanada could provide a livestream of their senior events to Americans who don’t get Canadian TV . . . But, enough complaining. 🙂 Let’s move on to the pairs action!

U.S. Nationals: Pairs

Last year’s pairs event at U.S. Nationals was one of the most exciting in recent memory. And despite all the off-season splits/new partnerships, this year’s event was almost as good. Here are my thoughts on what worked and what didn’t for the U.S. pairs.

The champions
The champions



Alexa/Chris came into Nationals focused on getting the win. And they did! They placed first in both segments and won the event by 10.57 points over Denney/Frazier. Although their win was not wholly unexpected, I think the margin of victory was a surprise. It sets them up nicely for 4CCs and Worlds.

Flying high: The quad twist  (Jay Adeff)
Flying high: The quad twist (Jay Adeff)

What was good: The technical elements. Prior to Nationals, Alexa/Chris announced they were adding the quad twist. They hit the quad several times in practice and did so again in their LP. And not only did they land it, they got level 3 and +2.43 in GOE for a total of 10.53 points on this element. Very impressive indeed! (In contrast, D/F scored 7.30 points on their triple twist.) Alexa/Chris also hit the SBS 3S in both programs. This was a major hurdle, as they have struggled with this jump since last season. So nice to see them land it here. They did have some problems with the SBS 2A/2A and the exit on the last lift in the LP, but otherwise their technical elements were strong. In the SP, they got level 4 on every element except the twist. They also had a couple level 4s in the LP. The GOE marks were mostly positive across the board. All in all, the technical elements are starting to fall into place for Alexa/Chris.

What needs work: Performance level. Alexa/Chris skated very well in Greensboro and got strong PCS scores. Yet at the same time, you could definitely sense they were a bit nervous and tight, especially in the LP, with the championship on the line. Their performance and expression is improving; however, there’s still room to grow. They are a very lovely-looking team on the ice, but they can work on selling the programs and involving the audience more. I think some of this will come naturally as their confidence continues to build.


Many had picked Denney/Frazier to win Nationals. And Haven/Brandon skated two very solid programs in Greensboro. However, they had to settle for silver behind Alexa/Chris. The good news is, they made the World team. Haven/Brandon won Junior Worlds in 2013, but this will be their first appearance at senior Worlds and will be invaluable experience for them going forward.

Winning silver, making the World team
Winning silver, making the World team

What was good: Lifts, triple twist, and transitions. D/F’s lifts are complex, with nice positions from Haven, and consistently get level 4 and good GOE. Their triple twist doesn’t have the spectacular height of Scimeca/Knierim, but it’s very nice nonetheless and is a reliably high-scoring element for them. They’ve gotten level 4 on it several times this season and almost always receive positive GOE. Aside from that, I think the refinement and detail of their transitions really stands out. Their programs are so well constructed and are a real asset for them.

What needs work: Again, performance level. Haven & Brandon skated very tight at this event, which really affected their speed. As Johnny Weir said on NBC, a lot of their elements were noticeably slow and labored. Because the speed wasn’t there, they couldn’t sell the programs as well as they did earlier this season. Especially in the LP, they seemed nervous and flat emotionally. These two have all the tools; everything it takes to succeed. But they need to raise the emotional level and skate with more freedom and passion.


What a comeback for Tarah/Danny. After undergoing hip labrum surgery last summer, it really seemed doubtful that this pair would be able to compete at all this season. Somehow, they not only got back into competitive shape but actually won their first national medal here and made the 4CC team. What a moment for them!

A special moment  (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)
A special moment (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

What was good: Tarah/Danny are charismatic, expressive skaters, and they really give everything to their performance. They excel at reaching out and telling a story. Their dramatic Spartacus LP was very well skated and warmly received by the crowd. Tarah/Danny are many U.S. skating fans’ favorite pair because of their ability to connect with an audience. (And because of their warm, friendly off-ice personalities!)

What needs work: Quality of technical elements. Tarah/Danny’s base value is pretty close to the top 2 teams. However, they are not getting nearly as much positive GOE, which basically means the judges do not see the same quality in their elements. Tarah/Danny’s total GOE for the event was 10.30, which was almost 6 points off D/F’s GOE score, and over 20 points behind S/K’s. So, they need to work on those elements to get the quality up. I’d say the biggest problem area is the triple twist. In the short program, S/K and D/F scored almost 3 points higher than K/O on this element alone. K/O’s lifts are also not scoring very high. They need more height in the twist and more speed on the lifts.


Maddie & Max had a great debut season on the GP, and some thought they might challenge for the podium in Greensboro. Any such hopes went by the wayside when Max fell in the short program. However, they pulled up in the LP to place fourth and win the pewter medal. I felt like their performances at Nationals were a bit restrained; not quite as expressive and open as on the GP. However, it was a great showing for their first senior nationals.

The ballerina and her partner  (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)
The ballerina and her partner (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

What was good: With Maddie & Max, what stands out is their packaging. Their costumes, music, and choreography all combine to create a surprisingly polished, satisfying package for such a young team. Maddie’s carriage is lovely, and I personally find Max engaging and likable as a performer. Also, as John Coughlin mentioned on IceNetwork, their SBS spins are notable for their difficulty and beautiful positions.

What needs work: Jump consistency and levels. Maddie/Max had many mistakes on jumps this season, including Max’s SBS fall in Greensboro in the SP and Maddie’s throw 3S fall in the LP. They don’t have the biggest, most impressive pairs elements and aren’t getting a lot of positive GOE yet on those elements, so they need to limit the negative GOE they’re getting on jumps. I would definitely make that a focus in the offseason. Also, they need to work toward getting higher base value levels. In both programs here, they had several level 3 elements and have received even lower levels internationally. All those level losses are .2, .4., .5 here and there, which adds up.


Jessica/Zack skated pretty well at Nationals to claim 5th place. Their short program was one of their strongest SPs this season.

A good Nationals for them  (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America)
A good Nationals for them (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America)

What was good: The throw 3F. This is Jessica/Zack’s best element. They land it quite consistently, even in the second half of their LP, and usually get good GOE. Another strong point is lifts. Almost all of their lifts this season have gotten level 4, and Jessica really hits some nice positions. (Although at times, Zack’s footwork could be faster.)

What needs work: Skating skills and chemistry. Jessica is a lovely skater. Zack presents her nicely, but I’d like to see them interact more as a team and work on their chemistry. Perhaps better choreography would help. Also, I think they need to improve their skating skills and get into the ice more.


This was the first Nationals for Marissa/Mervin. (Or Mervissa, as Jackie Wong dubbed them. :-)) Hopefully it will be one of many to come, because I feel this team has such potential! In the short program, that potential was on full display and Marissa/Mervin placed a surprising third. Their LP was not as good, and they dropped to 8th in that segment and 6th overall. However, I still feel there’s so much upside with this pair.

So much fun to watch  (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America)
So much fun to watch (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America)

What was good: Skating skills, skating skills, skating skills. I love watching these two move across the ice. The speed and depth of edge is marvelous. Watch their footwork into the SBS 3S in the long program—it’s so fast and sure-footed. The step sequence in the short program also really highlights their skating skills; they had level 4, many +2s, and even a +3 for this element. Also, Marissa’s throw 3S is still very big and good, just as it was with Simon. Finally, they have nice programs and packaging; very mature and sophisticated.

What needs work: Pairs elements—lifts, twist, throw 3F. Marissa/Mervin’s more difficult pairs elements are still a work in progress. They did only a throw 2F in the LP; obviously, they’ll need to upgrade that. Their twist was not bad in the SP, but rather poor in the LP. Some of their lifts look very nice; other times, they’re a bit shaky.

I think they just need more time together to continue to get comfortable, work hard, and improve. A couple things I’d look at here are: 1) Out of all the new teams this year, I think Marissa/Mervin have perhaps the biggest size change compared to their old partnerships, and that’s got to make it more difficult to get new timing and balance down. 2) When you look at their two previous partnerships (Castelli/Shnapir, Takahashi/Tran), neither partnership started off particularly fast. It took several years for both teams to hit their stride. So perhaps it will also take a bit of time for Mervin/Marissa to really gel. I just hope they can stay patient and keep working, because I love them together.


Unlike the other top pairs, Gretchen/Nate came into Nationals without having participated in any senior B or GP events. No one knew what to expect or how they would look as partners. I think they surprised most everyone with two solid programs and a surprisingly compatible, polished look for such a new team! They placed 5th in the SP and 7th overall.

A very promising debut
A very promising debut (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

What went well: I was most impressed with Gretchen/Nate’s lifts and their general comfort level as a pair. Their lifts looked quite smooth; all were level 4 with good GOE. And I thought they generally just looked very comfortable together. There weren’t many of those awkward, stiff moments that often happen with new pairs. And their programs are well suited to them and showcase Gretchen’s elegance.

What needs work: Jump consistency and speed. On IceNetwork, John Coughlin commented that they seemed a bit cautious and “safe” in the SP.


DeeDee/Simon came into Nationals with DeeDee still recovering from an injury. They skated similarly to their GP performances this fall and placed 8th.

In a building phase
In a building phase

What went well: Lifts, throw 3S, and SBS spins! DeeDee/Simon’s lifts are really good for such a new team. Simon really shines, showing a lot of strength and good footwork. He keeps the speed up nicely in the lifts. All but one of their lifts were level 4 and got positive GOE, with many +2s. The throw 3S is also really big and strong, as it was with Marissa, and scored well. Finally, DeeDee/Simon did some quite good SBS spins in Greensboro. A pleasant surprise, considering how much Marissa/Simon struggled with that element!

What needs work: Presentation. As of now, DeeDee/Simon are only doing throw 2Lp and double twist. Obviously, they’ll need to upgrade those elements. But the main thing is working on basic presentation—skating skills, speed, unison, timing, pairs quality. Program selection next year will be important—I don’t think anything too soft or romantic will work for these two. I would look to Duhamel/Radford’s programs and perhaps pick music similar to that.


This new pair placed 9th, but almost 20 points back from Leng/Shnapir. They are still working on just getting all the elements, although they landed a couple of good throw jumps. They had a solid, athletic look on the ice. It will be interesting to see how they develop.


Alex/Jimmy made just as big a comeback this season as Kayne/O’Shea and placed 10th. They had a terrible training accident this fall that resulted in Alex breaking her jaw. She had surgery, they missed their first-ever international assignment, and then Jimmy injured his hand last week at Nationals! What bad luck they’ve had, but they still managed to put out two enjoyable performances in Greensboro. Their Grease SP was a lot of fun. And their long program to “Concerto per il tuo Ricordo” was lovely, although marred by some mistakes. This team are fan favorites. Let’s hope next year goes better for them!


This pair skated some interesting programs in Greensboro to place 11th. A tall team with not much height difference between them, they had some very unusual moves in their programs and lovely, long lines. However, they struggled greatly with the lifts in the long program. They split up right after Nationals.


This pair debuted in seniors this year with a 12th-place finish. They are a mirror team and have a nice look on the ice. At present, however, they lack the technical content to be competitive. Their elements are all doubles except for the throw 3S.

U.S. Nationals: Junior Pairs

The junior pairs competition at Nationals was also interesting. We have a couple of promising new pairs going to Junior Worlds next month.


Caitlin/Ernie have only been together a few months. However, they’ve progressed so quickly that they were able to win the championship here with two very nice programs.

So good for such a short time together
So good for such a short time together (Jay Adeff)

Their Nostradamus SP was particularly impressive, skated with great attack and sharpness. The Don Quixote LP included an excellent throw 3Lp and some nice lifts. Caitlin/Ernie had by far the most polished, mature look of any of the junior teams. They skated with a lot of confidence and authority, unusual to see in such a new team. They will compete at Junior Worlds in March. This is their only season of junior eligibility, so let’s hope they have a good event!


Chelsea/Brian are another new team that has come together very quickly. Their technical content is a shade more difficult than Caitlin/Ernie’s, with a triple twist, SBS 2A/2T combo, and throw 3Lp as highlights. They have very nice presentation also, although not quite the same flair as Caitlin/Ernie. They did compete internationally this season on the Junior Grand Prix and made the Junior Grand Prix Final. They have also been assigned to Junior Worlds.


It was a great Nationals in Greensboro! So exciting to see the new U.S. pairs start to come together, and to see the existing pairs continue to improve and add exciting new content. U.S. pairs still have quite a ways to go before we can contend for medals at Worlds, but I do see progress and promise.

Going into 4CCs, the U.S. pairs face quite a challenge. They will compete against a formidable group of pairs including Duhamel/Radford, Peng/Zhang, and Sui/Han. Then, there is the surprising return of 2010 Olympic silver medalists Pang/Tong, plus rising Canadian pairs Ilyuschechkina/Moscovitch and Seguin/Bilodeau. It should be a great competition. I’m looking forward to more quad twists, more quad throws, and lots of excitement!!


One thought on “Highlights: U.S. Nationals Pairs

  1. Lauren

    I think your highlights coverage here is wonderfully thorough and I so appreciate having somewhere to go for in depth analysis of US pairs. I was in Greensboro and was pleasantly surprised at how good this pairs event was as I was expecting a bit of a letdown after last year.

    I agree with the placements and congratulate Alexa and Chris on finally doing a clean short together with a decent long and that amazing twist. They are deserving champions this year but I found that PCS was wildly abused to promote this pair and give them a huge cushion going into the free. It’s not exactly a surprise at US nationals but it really seemed to come at the expense of the other top pairs especially Denney and Frazier in the short. I don’t think there’s any justification for a near 3.5 point PCS gap between S/K and D/F for mostly clean short programs. I thought Denney and Frazier looked gutted in the press conference at the realization that the judges clearly had slated them for silver and I think that had to play in to why their Lion King ended up flatter than it was all season. S/K were very good here and some elements are amazing/world class but they aren’t the artists/performers that the marks would indicate and on choreography and especially interpretation I think they actually belong significantly behind Castelli/Tran, Aaron/Settlage, Kayne/O’Shea and D/F. But it’s subjective of course 🙂 I guess what I’m saying is I totally understand the US Nationals inflation but it bugged me that they seemed to get it tenfold relative to literally everyone else.

    Out of all of the teams, it was only Kayne and O’Shea who actually made me FEEL while watching them. I love this pair and I think they would have been right in the mix for the world team had they been able to do a full season. Yes some elements need work for sure but I thought they were scored conservatively in a way that maybe they wouldn’t have been if it hadn’t been their first major competition in almost a year. I’m already excited for what they’ll do next year.

    Maddie and Max are a total delight but I worry they’ll be a perennial 4th/5th place team because their elements lack explosiveness and wow factor. Still I was glad they pulled ahead of Calalang and Sidhu who I find utterly boring besides the throw flip/lutz.

    Of the new teams, Mervin and Marissa have so much promise. But it’s hard to say whether they’ll be contending for the title next year or whether the technical elements will hold them back. I really could see it going either way but she’s always been a favorite so I hope it’s the former. I actually thought Simon and DeeDee were much improved (less mistakes and better expression) from what we saw on IN during the GP (although that bar was unfortunately super low). I didn’t realize until Nationals just how injured she’d been so I don’t really think it’s fair to even judge their potential off this season. They actually had some of the best SBS spins in the entire comp. Nate and Gretchen were a wonderful surprise- they looked very comfortable for a new pair. I didn’t know how this pairing would work and I was surprised at how much I really really liked them. In sum, I’m excited to see all three of these teams next season with more time and experience under their belts.


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