U.S. Nationals: Senior Ladies Preview

This is going to be a tough competition as so many of these girls deserve to be on the podium and many of them struggle with consistency.  There are only two spots on the World team and these girls will be under tremendous pressure to skate well enough to earn back our third slot for next season.

Alissa Czisny is the favorite going in, having bested the international field and won the Grand Prix Final title.  She has had roller coaster results in the past and after her win at the Final she has said that she is a new skater.  She changed coaches in the offseason and their approach seems to be working for her.  She has a 13 point lead over the field in terms of seasons best so she does have some room to make mistakes.  Her free skate is her weakness this season, but she still has the 3rd best score internationally.  Her program components are deservedly sky high and she has arguably the best spins and spirals in the world.  If she can stay on her feet for both programs she’ll take back her national title.

Mirai Nagasu had a stellar season last year finishing 4th at the Olympics and besting the field to win the short program at Worlds.  Her weakness is being in 1st place and she showed at worlds and at her first Grand Prix that she doesn’t do well with the pressure of being in 1st.  If she is 2nd or worse after the short program you can expect a great free skate from her and for her to contend for a medal.  If she’s in 1st after the short program, she may find herself off the podium after her free skate.  Her short program is ranked 5th internationally and she is 8th in the free skate and 7th in total scores.

Ashley Wagner has been oh so close to making the World team two seasons in a row.  She is a fighter and has no problem putting out a strong free skate.  As long as she puts herself within podium distance with her short program she could win a medal here.  She almost stopped skating after not making the Olympic team but like Ryan Bradley, has kept skating for love of the sport and has found new dedication.  She has the 7th best free skate and 8th best total score internationally this season.

Rachael Flatt has been struggling with injury all season but was able to fight through her Skate America programs and take home the silver medal.  She is also training one of the toughest triple triple combinations out there and has been known in her past for her incredible consistency.  That trait seems to have deserted her this season and her Grand Prix Final score was nearly 40 points lower than her two Grand Prix scores and is one of the lowest international scores posted by a U.S. lady this season.  She is debuting a new short program here which could put her at a disadvantage as it won’t have the same training level and feedback from the judges that the other ladies have.  On the other hand, it sounds like her new short program will suit her better and Lori Nichol is an amazing choreographer.  I think it will be a fight for her to retain her title as at her best her scores only put her 6th in the free skate and 10th in total score internationally and she is bested by three other ladies in this field.  The new short program could be a game changer for her and its hard to make a solid prediction having not seen the new program.  All indications are that she’s training well and is very much part of the podium equation in Greensboro.

Agnes Zawadzki is the reigning National Junior Champion and won the Junior Worlds silver medal at her first international competition.  She skipped the Junior Grand Prix circuit altogether and has impressed at both her Grand Prix assignments with short programs that put her in medal contention and earned the 10th best international score this season.

Christina Gao is one of the young skaters to watch.  She finished 5th at nationals last season and could easily make a run for the podium this year.  Her Junior Grand Prix scores put her among the top skaters and she should garner more points with one extra element added to her senior program.  She had mistakes in her short program at the Final and wasn’t able to land on the podium.  If she can fix this problem she could easily medal or land in the top 5 here.

Two young skaters to watch are Vanessa Lam and Yasmin Siraj who posted big scores at their Junior Grand Prix assignments.  Siraj is also the youngest skater to compete in senior ladies as she is just 14.  She is not age eligible to go to worlds so I could see her doing very well here without the pressure some of the other ladies have to make the world team.

You can also check out this post comparing the best and worst scores from the season thus far: http://backstagebarbie.blogspot.com/2011/01/us-nationals-preview-senior-ladies-best.html

My podium predictions:
Gold: Alissa Czisny
Silver: Mirai Nagasu
Bronze: Ashley Wagner
Pewter: Rachael Flatt

My USFSA Fantasy Picks:
A) Alissa Czisny
B) Christina Gao
C) Kristiene Gong

The skaters:

Rachael Flatt:  Flatt placed 7th at the Olympics with personal best scores across the board and 9th at Worlds.  She is the 2008 World Junior Champion.  She won silver at NHK Trophy and Skate America to qualify for the Grand Prix Final where she finished 6th.  She is the 2005 National Novice Champion, 2006 National Junior silver medalist, 2008 and 2009 National silver medalist.  She is the reigning National Champion.

Mirai Nagasu: Nagasu placed 4th at her Olympic debut with personal bests in the free skate and total score.  She placed 7th at the World Championships after a personal best short program.  She won a silver and bronze medal at the World Junior Championships.  She finished 4th at Cup of China and won silver at Trophee Eric Bompard.  She is the 2007 National Junior Champion, 2008 National Champion, and 2010 National silver medalist.

Ashley Wagner: Wagner is the 2007 and 2009 World Junior Bronze medalist.  She finished 5th at NHK Trophy and won bronze at Cup of Russia with personal best free skate and total scores.  She is the 2006 National Junior pewter medalist, 2007 National Junior bronze medalist, 2008 National bronze medalist, 2009 National pewter medalist and 2010 National bronze medalist.

Christina Gao: Gao finished 8th at the World Junior Championships.  She won silver at JGP Cup of Austria and silver at Pokal der Blauen to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final where she finished 6th.  She is the 2009 National Junior bronze medalist.  She finished 5th at nationals last season.

Alexe Gilles: Gilles finished 9th at Four Continents.  She finished 11th at Skate Canada and 12th at Skate America.  She is the 2008 National Junior Champion.  She finished 8th at nationals last year.

Caroline Zhang: Zhang is the Four Continents bronze medalist.  She is the 2007 World Junior Champion and 2008 and 2009 World Junior silver medalist.  She finished 7th at NHK Trophy and 9th at Skate America.  She is the 2007 National Junior silver medalist, 2008 National pewter medalist and 2009 National bronze medalist.  She placed 11th at nationals last season.

Kristiene Gong: Gong won silver at JGP Brasov Cup and placed 4th at J. Curry Memorial to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final where she finished 8th.  She is the 2009 National Junior pewter medalist.  She finished 16th at nationals last season.

Kristine Musademba: She finished 8th at Cup of China with personal best scores across the board.  She is the 2008 National Junior pewter medalist.  She sat out nationals last season due to injury.

Agnes Zawadzki: Zawadzki is the reigning World Junior Silver Medalist.  She finished 6th at her Grand Prix debut in Canada with personal best scores across the board and 4th at Cup of Russia with a personal best short program.  She is the reigning National Junior Champion.

Yasmin Siraj: She won silver at JGP Courcheval and silver at J. Curry Memorial to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final where she placed 7th.  She is the reigning National Junior silver medalist.

Alissa Czisny: She qualified with a 1st place finish at Midwestern sectionals. Czisny won Skate Canada with personal best free and total scores and took home bronze from Trophee Eric Bompard to qualify for the Grand Prix Final where she won gold with personal best scores across the board.  She is the 2007 National bronze medalist and the 2009 National Champion.  She finished 10th at nationals last season.

Vanessa Lam: She qualified with a 1st place finish at Pacific Coast sectionals.  She won gold at her Junior Grand Prix assignment this season.  She finished 8th at nationals at the junior level last year.

Melissa Bulanhagui: She qualified with a 2nd place finish at Eastern sectionals.  She is the 2006 National Junior bronze medalist.  She finished 12th at nationals last season.

Kelsey Traunero: She qualified with a 3rd place finish at Eastern sectionals.

Joelle Forte: She qualified with a 4th place finish at Eastern sectionals. She finished 12th at nationals in 2009.

Morgan Bell: She qualified with a 2nd place finish at Midwestern sectionals.

Danielle Kahle: She qualifed with a 2nd place finish at Pacific Coast sectionals.  She is the 2002 National Novice Champion and 2003 National Junior bronze medalist.  She finished 12th at nationals in 2008.

Raina Narita: She qualified with a 5th place Eastern sectionals.

Keli Zhou: She qualified with a 3rd place finish at Pacific Coast sectionals.  She finished 10th at nationals at the junior level in 2009.

Katy Jo West: She qualified with a 3rd place finish at Midwestern sectionals.

Ellie Kawamura: She qualified with a 4th place finish at Midwestern sectionals.  She is the 2009 National Junior silver medalist.  She finished 21st at nationals last season.

Tatyana Khazova: She qualified with a 4th place finish at Pacific Coast sectionals.  She finished 20th at nationals last season.

Samantha Cesario, Amanda Dobbs, Felicia Zhang and Kiri Baga had qualified for nationals but withdrew due to injury.