U.S. Nationals Senior Ladies Preview

Alissa Czisny is the reigning Champion and has a great shot at winning her third U.S. title in San Jose.  She qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the second year in a row and was the only U.S. lady to medal in both her Grand Prix assignments.  Although she struggled at the Grand Prix Final due to an injury she sustained at the event, she has recently said that she is back to 100%.  She’ll be playing it safe on the technical side and won’t be attempting a triple+triple combination in an attempt to put out two clean programs.  If she is truly recovered and her confidence is intact she should take the title here.

Ashley Wagner changed coaches in the off season and seems to have found renewed confidence and love for skating.  She won one medal on the Grand Prix this season and barely missed the podium in her second event.  She has great lines and expression on the ice and is becoming more consistent in her programs.  She also has great choreography this season and has reworked her Black Swan free skate to fully capture the power of the second half.  After being sick last year and missing the podium for the first time since 2005, she is hungry for a shot at the Worlds team.

Mirai Nagasu won a medal on the Grand Prix as well this season after faltering at her first event.  She can be a truly captivating skater when she is on and can compete with the best (winning the Worlds short program in 2010) but her nerves often get in her way.  Over the last two seasons she has made several uncharacteristic errors, including falling out of a sit spin at nationals last season and a layback spin at Skate Canada this season.  In a recent interview she revealed her unusual coaching situation in which she trains at three different rinks, some as far as two hours away.  She also did not seem to be her usually bubbly self and did not seem to be sure of her chances at nationals.  This could work in her favor as she seems to really take advantage when the pressure is off.

Leah Keiser is making her senior debut at nationals this year after not qualifying for juniors last season.  She impressed at her summer events, taking home several gold medals, and won gold at Pacific Coast Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has great jumps, including triple+triples and a very mature style, despite only being 14 years old.  While she isn’t old enough to compete as a senior internationally and won’t be eligible for the Four Continents or Worlds team, she will be looking for a spot on the Junior Worlds team.  The Junior field at nationals is extremely deep, so she’ll have to show a good result at the senior level if she wants one of the three spots.

Samantha Cesario is also making her senior debut.  She won two medals on the Junior Grand Prix and just missed out on a spot in the Grand Prix Final.  Her scores in qualifying were slightly below her international results, so she’ll have to step it up at nationals.  Like Ashley Wagner, her “Black Swan” program has received praise all season.

Vanessa Lam was the only U.S. lady to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final.  She improved in her second event to take home the gold medal but struggled in the Final and failed to make the podium.  She finished 7th at Nationals last season as a senior and has typically flown under the radar which could give her an advantage.

Caroline Zhang is making a comeback this season with a gold medal at an international B event and a third place finish in the short program at Skate America.  She continued to make strides with her scoring at her qualifying events.  She’s been working on her jump technique and her confidence on the ice.  She’s shown that her hard work is paying off, but she’ll have to continue that jump if she wants a medal here.

Other ladies to watch for in this crowded field are reigning silver medalist Rachael Flatt (who struggled in her Grand Prix events after changing coaches and starting college at Stanford) World Junior bronze medalist Agnes Zawadzki (4th last season) and Christina Gao (5th last season).  While I wouldn’t count any of these ladies out as they are technically proficient and can be brilliant skaters when they are on, they have all struggled this season, which could take a toll on their confidence level heading in to nationals.   

Yasmin Siraj and McKinzie Daniels could be the dark horses of this event and end up in the final flight.  Yasmin Siraj struggled at her Junior Grand Prix assignment and declined a second event to focus on nationals. She put up a huge score at regionals but couldn’t come anywhere close at sectionals.  Her unpredictability this season means she could end up anywhere in the standings.  McKinzie Daniels is the only Junior medalist from last season who will be competing as a senior in San Jose (Courtney Hicks is out with an injury, Lauren Dinh did not qualify and Katarina Kulgeyko is competing in juniors).  She had disappointing results in her Junior Grand Prix assignment but struggled with injury in the beginning of the season.  Her sectionals score was nearly 40 points higher than her international results and puts her in the mix if she can repeat that performance.

My podium predictions:
Gold: Alissa Czisny
Silver: Ashley Wagner
Bronze: Mirai Nagasu
Pewter: Leah Keiser

Bios of the competitors:
Samantha Cesario: She is 18 years old and represents the Skating Club of New York.  She won bronze at JGP Estonia and Poland.  She placed 8th in Juvenile in 2005, 6th in Juniors in 2009 and 14th in 2010.  She won silver at Eastern Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has the 9th best short program, 8th best free skate and 7th best total score from qualifying.  She has the 8th best short program, 10th best free skate and 8th best total score internationally at the junior level.

Haley Dunne: She is 18 years old and represents the Washington Figure Skating Club.  She finished 13th in Juniors in 2010 and 8th in Juniors in 2011.  She won gold at South Atlantic Regionals and pewter at Eastern Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has the 10th best free skate and 10th best total score from qualifying.

Joelle Forte: She is 25 and represents the Skating Club of New York.  She placed 7th at Nebelhorn Trophy and 8th at Skate America.  She finished 9th in Novice in 2000, 12th in 2009 and 9th in 2011.  She won bronze at Eastern Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has the 7th best free skate and 8th best total score from qualifying.  

Yasmin Siraj: She is 15 years old and represents the Skating Club of Boston.  She placed 5th at JGP Latvia.  She is the 2007 Juvenile silver medalist, finished 6th in Intermediate Ladies in 2008, 5th in Novice in 2009, is the 2010 Junior silver medalist and finished 8th in 2011.  She won the New England Regional and Eastern Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has the best short program, free skate and total score from qualifying.

Kiri Baga: She is 16 years old and represents the Figure Skating Club of Bloomington.  She finished 8th in Intermediate in 2007, is the 2009 Novice Champion and 2010 Junior pewter medalist.  She won gold at Upper Great Lakes Regionals and bronze at Midwestern Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has the 6th best short program, 9th best free skate and 9th best total score from qualifying.

Morgan Bell: She is 20 and represents the Rocky Mountain Figure Skating Club.  She finished 17th in 2011.  She won pewter at Southwestern Regionals and Midwestern Sectionals to qualify for nationals

McKinzie Daniels: She is 16 years old and represents the Broadmoor Skating Club.  She placed 10th at JGP Romania.  She finished 9th in Juvenile Girls in 2006, 8th in Intermediate Ladies in 2008, 8th in Novice in 2009, 9th in Junior in 2010 and is the reigning Junior pewter medalist.  She won silver at Southwestern Regionals and silver at Midwestern Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has the 7th best short program, 6th best free skate and 6th best total score from qualifying.

Nina Jiang: She is 14 years old and represents the Texas Gulf Coast Figure Skating Club.  She is the 2007 Juvenile Girls Champion, 2008 Intermediate Ladies Champion, 2009 Novice Ladies pewter medalist, finished 5th as a Junior in 2010 and 9th in Juniors in 2011.  She won bronze at Southwestern Regionals and gold at Midwestern Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has the 5th best short program, free skate and total score from qualifying.

Sophia Adams: She represents the All Year Figure Skating Club.  She won the silver at Southwest Pacific Regionals and the pewter at Pacific Coast Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has the 10th best short program score from qualifying.

Leah Keiser: She is 14 years old and represents the All Year Figure Skating Club.  She is the 2008 Juvenile Girls Champion and 2010 Novice Champion.  She won gold at Southwest Pacific Regionals and Pacific Coast Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has the 3rd best short program, 2nd best free skate and 2nd best total score from qualifying.

Angela Wang: She is 15 years old and represents the Salt Lake Figure Skating Club.  She finished 9th in Intermediate in 2007, is the 2008 Intermediate Ladies pewter medalist, the 2009 Novice bronze medalist and finished 7th in Juniors in 2010.  She won gold at Central Pacific Regionals and bronze at Pacific Coast Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has the 4th best short program, 3rd best free skate and 4th best total score from qualifying.

Caroline Zhang: She is 18 years old and represents the All Year Figure Skating Club.  She placed 6th at Skate America and won gold at Ice Challenge.  She is the 2010 Four Continents bronze medalist, the 2007 Junior World Champion and the 2008 and 2009 Junior World silver medalist.  She is the 2003 Juvenile Girls pewter medalist, 2004 Intermediate Ladies bronze medalist, 2005 Novice pewter medalist, finished 8th in Juniors in 2006, is the 2007 Junior silver medalist, 2008 pewter medalist, 2009 bronze medalist, finished 11th in 2010 and 12th in 2011.  She won silver at Pacific Coast Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She has the 2nd best short program, 4th best free skate and 3rd best total score from qualifying.

Alissa Czisny: She is 24 years old and represents the Detroit Skating Club.  She won gold at Skate Canada and bronze at Trophee Eric Bompard to qualify for the Grand Prix Final where she finished 5th.  She is the 2001 Junior silver medalist, finished 11th in 2002, 10th in 2003, 12th in 2004, 7th in 2005 and 2006, is the 2007 bronze medalist, finished 9th in 2008, is the 2009 Champion, finished 10th in 2010 and is the reigning Champion.  She has the 4th best short program, 2nd best free skate and 6th best total score internationally.

Rachael Flatt: She is 19 years old and represents the Broadmoor Skating Club.  She placed 10th at Skate Canada and 9th at Rostelecom Cup.  She is the 2008 World Junior Champion, She finished 6th in Juvenile Girls in 2003, is the 2005 Novice Champion, 2006 Junior silver medalist, finished 5th in 2007, is the 2008 and 2009 silver medalist, 2010 Champion and reigning silver medalist.

Christina Gao: She is 17 years old and represents the Northern Kentucky Skating Club.  She finished 5th at Cup of China and 10th at Rostelecom Cup.  She placed 12th in Juvenile Girls in 2005, 12th in Novice in 2008, is the 2009 Junior bronze medalist, finished 5th in 2010 and 2011.

Vanessa Lam: She is 16 years old and represents the All Year Figure Skating Club.  She won bronze at JGP Australia and gold at JGP Austria to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final where she finished 5th.  She placed 5th in Intermediate Ladies in 2007, 9th in Juniors in 2009, 8th in Juniors in 2010 and 7th in 2011. She has the 9th best short program, 4th best free skate and 6th best total score internationally at the junior level.

Mirai Nagasu: She is 18 years old and represents the Pasadena Figure Skating Club.  She is the reigning Four Continents bronze medalist.  She placed 5th at Skate Canada, won silver at Cup of China and gold at Nebelhorn Trophy.  She is the 2007 World Junior silver medalist and 2008 World Junior bronze medalist.  She is the 2007 Junior Ladies Champion, 2008 Champion, finished 5th in 2009, is the 2010 silver medalist and reigning bronze medalist.  She has the 7th best short program, free skate and total score internationally.

Ashley Wagner: She is 20 years old and represents the Skating Club of Wilmington.  She won bronze at Skate Canada and finished 4th at NHK Trophy.  She is the 2007 and 2009 World Junior bronze medalist.  She finished 17th in Intermediate in 2003, 7th in Novice in 2005, is the 2006 Junior pewter medalist, 2007 Junior bronze medalist, 2008 bronze medalist, 2009 pewter medalist, 2010 bronze medalist and finished 6th in 2011.  She has the 9th best short program and 10th best free skate internationally.

Agnes Zawadzki: She is 17 years old and represents the Broadmoor Skating Club.  She placed 8th at NHK Trophy and 7th at Rostelecom Cup.  She is the 2010 World Junior silver medalist and is the reigning World Junior bronze medalist.  She is the 2007 Intermediate silver medalist, 2008 Novice pewter medalist, 2010 Junior Champion, and reigning pewter medalist.