2015 US Figure Skating Championships Preview - Pairs: A New Champion Crowned
With the men's and the ladies competition looked at, now I move onto the pairs. This time, we look at pairs. The top three from last year have either split or taking the year off. A little background on that:
Reigning two-time champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir have split after what seems to have been a rocky partnership and are both here with different partners. Silver medalists Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay have split because Zhang has retired, and Bartholomay is here with his new partner. Bronze medalists (and former champions) Caydee Denny and John Coughlin are taking the year off to let Denney recover from an injury.
With that being said, there will be a new pairs champion crowned as the 2012 Champions (Denney & Coughlin) are not here, and the reigning champs have split, and neither is going to be taking a medal here.
A good battle for gold is waging, and there are a couple of pairs who could take the bronze. Unlike in the other three disciplines, there are only two spots for US pairs, and none of them are likely to be competitive on the World stage, but they are promising nonetheless.
Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir
There are two favorites for gold this week in pairs - a veteran team and a young up and coming team, and it could end up be a good battle between them, though neither is going to competitive at Worlds - at least not yet.
Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier - Denney is the little sister of former two-time national champ, Caydee Denney. Internationally, they competed in their first year as seniors. They ended up being the highest ranking American pairs, winning a silver at Skate America - the highest placement for any US team since 2006. If they're clean, they could come away with the title. The key for them will be staying confident and doing what they did at Skate America. If they can do that, they could come out on top this season.
Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim - They were the de facto leaders of the US pairs after all the splits and injuries that took out the top three. They didn't medal on the Grand Prix circuit, but they were very close and Trophee Bompard. They have a maturity that the other pairs here lack, and the big talk is that they have a Quad Twist that they're going to be doing. If they can put that in with the other elements, they could walk away with the gold here.
Felicia Zhang & Nathan Bartholomay
There is a couple of other pairs could land themselves. A spot at Worlds is out of the question because the pairs only have two spots available, but a podium finish for any of these pairs could set them up well for next season.
Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea - They came out of nowhere last season and won the silver medal at Four Continents. They were out most of this season due to Kayne needing surgery, but they had a decent competition at the Golden Spin of Zagreb, a b-competition. They are more than capable of landing on the podium this week, and should if they do everything that they are capable of. It should land them a trip to Four Continents again.
Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage - Another little sister, Aaron is the little sister of 2013 Men's champ Max Aaron. Aaron and Settlage had a decent, though not great, debut senior season, placing fifth in both of their Grand Prix competitions. They don't have the technical firepower to compete with some of the other teams, but a top-five finish should be a for sure thing for them, and if other teams mistakes, they might surprise and end up a little higher. I don't think that will happen, though, but this is definitely a team to watch for.
Caydee Denney & John Coughlin
Dark Horses & Other Pairs to Watch
There's only one real dark horse in my opinion among the weak field here in Pairs at Nationals:
Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran - Castelli is the reigning two-time champ with her former partner, Simon Shnapir. Tran is a former World Bronze Medalist with former partner Narumi Takahashi of Japan. The US is the third country he's skated for, counting his home country of Canada. They had a good competition at sectionals, though the newness is still showing and the big tricks needed to be really competitive weren't there. It doesn't matter what they place, because they are not eligible for international competition this year as Tran was released from Canada this summer and they must take a year off. They could up surprising here, though since they are flying under the radar.
There are two other pairs that you might want to watch, though:
DeeDee Leng and Simon Shnapir - Shanpir is the other half of the reigning two champions with ex-partner Marissa Castelli. He and his new partner have had more exposure than Castelli & Tran (because the latter can't compete internationally this year, as I mentioned) but the two have not gelled as a pair this year and have not good showings so far. It's tough to see them placing very high this week, but maybe some time to themselves away from the international scene might have done them some good.
Gretchen Donlan & Nathan Bartholomay - Bartholomay is the reigning silver medalist with his former partner, Felicia Zhang. Nothing is really known about him and Donlan as a pair, as I have not personally seen them and not heard anything about them myself. Though, Donlan has a history of inconsistency, which is worth noting. It'll be interesting to see where they are in relation to the other new pairs this week.
The competition takes place Thursday and Saturday for the pairs, and it'll be interesting to see where everyone ends up - especially in relation to the battle for gold. I'll be watching!
Here are my predictions:
Gold - Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim: I think they should take the gold here if they do what they came to do - and especially if that Quad Twist is clean.
Silver - Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier: They could win here, but I think they'll end up a close but very solid silver behind them.
Bronze: Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea: They have the skills, and despite taking most of the year off, I think they are going to be on the podium here.
Pewter: Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran: Yes, I'm picking a dark horse to be up there. They had a solid debut at Sectionals, and I think with the field the way it is, they should end up there.
5th - Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage: They had a decent but not stellar season, and they could be a tad higher, but I think they'll end up solidly in 5th.
Below, I have put a poll, so please vote for who you are rooting for. I have also put a video of Denney and Frazier's free skate from Skate America. Enjoy!