Underdog Yang excited to make her mark in Omaha

Maria Yang is a 10th grader representing the Washington Figure Skating Club.  She splits her training time between the Ashburn Ice House and the Cabin John Ice Rink.  This self-proclaimed underdog is ready to make a big splash at nationals with her combination of discipline and determination.  She won bronze at South Atlantic Regionals and gold at Eastern Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  She sat down with me after the Wheaton Ice Show to talk about balancing a difficult school schedule, her training situation and her least favorite jumps.

Tell me about yourself outside of skating.
I like math, science and computer science. Those are my favorite classes. Everything kind of revolves around skating for me. You have to change your skating schedule to fit with what you have to do in school. It’s just school and skating for me.

What is your favorite part of skating?
It’s a lot of fun. I just love getting out there and performing. You put all this effort into something and then when you get out there, you can actually show other people what you’ve done all these years. It feels really good.

How do you balance school with skating?
School usually comes first because college is coming up really soon. I go to school and then I come home and depending on what sessions they have that day I’ll either do homework first and then go skating or go straight to skating and then do homework. But I usually have to stay up really late. My bedtime is from 11:30-12:10 and then I have to get up every morning at 6:30 to get to school. That’s how I do it I guess. Less sleep. And coffee works really well.

You haven’t qualified for nationals since 2010 as a Juvenile and now you are the Eastern Sectional Junior Ladies champion. What changes did you make this season that led to your success?
I think the biggest change was the summer before last when I switched coaches. It was a rough time because I worked with my last coach for 8 years and we got to nationals together. We did so much. She gave me really good support. It was really tough but I just couldn’t seem to get my double axel for a few years so we felt like it was time for a change. It was kind of rough at first because my new coach is an hour away from where I live so I can only see him on weekends. I have a lesson Friday after school, Saturday morning he comes to my rink where I usually skate during the week and then Sunday I go back to Ashburn where I train with him so I only have three lessons a week. He really motivates me and is a really nice coach. We work well.

Where do you train during the week?
I train at Cabin John Ice Rink which is closer so during the week it makes balancing everything easier except that means I get to see my coach less. But I mean it still works out. I don’t know how it works out, but it does.

Do you have a coach at your home rink?
I work on my own. But he checks on me a lot.

How do you motivate yourself to go to the rink everyday on your own?
Sometimes I really don’t want to go because I have so much homework but I’ve worked so hard I’m not going to stop working hard now.

You’ll be heading to nationals with two of your training mates. What do you think that experience is going to be like?
We’re all really good friends. It’s going to be really fun I think, because I get to go skate with people I know already who are really good friends and we train together a lot.

Are there any new technical elements you’ve been working for in preparation for nationals?
It’s been kind of rough because I got my double axel clean for the first time at Liberty [Summer Competition] last year. I got my triple loop and triple salchow before sectionals last year. Right after that when I didn’t qualify for nationals I just pushed myself a lot harder and flip and lutz just came. I’ve always kind of struggled with toe but I’ve been getting it recently. It’s been working. I’ve been working on triple flip + triple loop. They’re pretty good but I don’t think I’m going to be using them this season but you’ll probably be seeing them next year. Flip, lutz and loop are my really good jumps. Axel, salchow and toe are ok. They’re there. But I don’t really like them that much.

You improved 14 points between regionals and sectionals. Do you think that gives you momentum going into nationals?
Regionals wasn’t my best game. After regionals I was disappointed in myself because I knew I could have skated so much better. After regionals I just had more motivation for sectionals. I can do these programs clean, I’ve run them so many times everyday. I just have to do it at sectionals. And when I got there, I just did it. I was really proud of myself. I think this is better motivation because now I’m going to nationals and I know I can do these programs.

What are your goals for nationals?
I feel like the underdog. I like that feeling. I don’t have too many expections for myself. My goal right now is just to go there and have so much fun. I haven’t been to nationals in three years and this is going to be a great learning experience. But I definitely want to be in the last warm up. That would really be something big for me. I just want to skate clean. All I want is to skate clean. I don’t really care where I place, I just want to do clean programs.

The Junior Ladies field in the U.S. is very deep. What do you think sets you apart?
Junior is always really hard. There’s always a ton of good people there. This year is no exception. There’s so many good people and I can’t wait to meet them. I’ve never met them before. I don’t really know what sets me apart but I’m just so excited to be going!

What skaters do you look up to? 
Definitely Christina Gao. Because she goes to Harvard and she balances skating and she’s gotten better since then. I go to a magnet school and everyone at my school pushes each other to try to get to the best colleges they can get into. I’m with them on that, and I’m really looking forward to going to college. Christina Gao really motivates me.  I tell myself when I don’t want to go to the rink if she can go to Harvard and go skating, I can definitely do this. I’m really excited to meet Ashley Wagner because she used to train in this area. She came to my rink quite a few times. I really look up to her too.

What about Ashley and Christina do you hope to emulate in your own skating?
Christina has really good technique; really beautiful air position. Ashley has huge jumps and really good presentation. When you watch her skate, it’s just breathtaking.

Anything else you want people to know?
I just love skating a lot. I’ve been skating for 9 years. It all pays off in the end. I’m just so excited to go to nationals and then calculus starts when I get back.