“What do you say to taking chances? What do you say to jumping off the edge?” Chances are, this title will be won by the team willing to simply take the chance. Between new partners and retired skaters, this event does not have a defending champion. Yes, John Coughlin is there, but in a very knew partnership. Veterans Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig have come awfully close, but never to the very top. Will experience trump chemistry? It’s an interesting battle, for sure.
The Break Down
Caydee Denney & John Coughlin — The closest thing to a returning National champ, both Caydee and John have been there, done that. But, not together. It’s been interesting watching these two compete this year. They seem to have a natural fit in their technique, and more importantly in their connection. They both seem to be skating with an enormous amount of determination, and the talent to back it up. Still, their partnership is new. Their choreography isn’t complex. Their elements are huge, but it takes more than that to win a title.
Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig — I think it’s safe to say these two have more experience together than the top four teams combined! That certainly plays to their advantage here. Not only does their time together have them at a comfort level unheard of by the other teams, but it allows them to add difficulty to every element. Their lifts, their in betweens, their footwork, their choreography — all things they have improved this year. The trick for them is hitting the side-by-side jumps. The called in some backup from Christy Krall (yes, Patrick Chan’s coach) to help solidify the jumps. If they hit them, the may be looking at their first National title in 10 trips to the championships.
Mary Beth Marley & Rockne Brubaker — This is a team that, in a way, confuses me a bit. Let me explain. Of course, I expected Rockne Brubaker to be competitive, with whatever partner he chose. And they were at last year’s Nationals. However, trying to keep up with internationally experienced teams with Mary Beth learning pairs skating on the fly … it’s a challenge that seems to widen the gap, not lessen it. I adore them both, don’t get me wrong. But they have to be flawless to keep up. The expectations on Rockne may have people anticipating more from them sooner than they are capable of it. That said, the bronze medal position is very open. They have a chance at claiming it.
Tiffany Vise & Don Baldwin — Marley and Brubaker will have to fend off this couple on the rise, though. Vise and Baldwin competed on the Grand Prix this year and, while they struggled at times, they showed great potential. With another young partnership, we’re going to have the classic consistency struggles. But, they have elements that wow me, and Tiffany is a firecracker! It’s only a matter of time before they start to gel and, therefore, excel.
Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir — The medal contention discussion isn’t complete without adding these two into the mix. They paint a beautiful picture on the ice with interesting and creative choreography. Plus, they have a throw triple axel. At least, they want to. They attempted it at NHK Trophy this year and it was rotated. I was in St. Louis in 2006 when Rena Inoue and John Baldwin hit the first ever throw triple axel and, let me tell you, if these two hit that element, the crowd in San Jose will erupt. It’s an enormous element and one skating fans don’t take for granted. They finished fifth last year, and you better believe they’re ready for a medal.
A couple others to keep an eye on, Ashley Cain & Joshua Reagan made their senior debut at last year’s Nationals. They are long and lean and that allows for some beautiful, elegant, classic lines in their choreography. Also, Felicia Zhang & Nathan Bartholomay will be looking to make a splash. They were ready to do so last season, but Felicia was forced to withdraw due to injury.
As always, it’s a battle that doesn’t allow for a significant margin of error. Between Evora/Ladwig and Denney/Coughlin, experience could be key. But, so will clean skates. With only two Worlds spots available, the Marley/Brubakers and Castelli/Shnapirs are going to be chomping at the bit to upstage the favorites. And it is Nationals — anything can happen! But, here’s what I expect.
1. Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig
2. Caydee Denney and John Coughlin
3. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir
What do you think of Denney/Coughlin’s debut season? Are they what you expected them to be?