by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman
San Jose, host of the 2023 US National Championships, is located in the heart of California’s high-tech Silicon Valley. The event was previously held here in 1996, 2012 and 2018. The assignment for 2021 was moved to Las Vegas due to more stringent Covid-19 requirements..
The Juniors opened the event on Tuesday with the Pairs short program and closed the evening with the Rhythm Dance.
Jenna Hauer & Benjamin Starr danced into second place with 65.47 points for their interpretation of “Adios Nonios” and “Felicia” by Forever Tango and “Malaguena Salerosa” by Chingon. The team that splits it’s training between the Boston suburbs and Connecticut earned seven of eight positive Key Point marks. The rotational lift and both twizzles were level 4.
Eliana Peal & Ethan Peal were third with 61.91 points. The siblings are coached in Nashville, TN by their dad, former US and International competitor, Rob Peal. Both twizzles and the rotational lift earned level 4.They received six of eight positive Key Point marks while skating to “Otra Noche En La Viruta” by Otros Aires and “Bamboleo” by Gypsy Kings.
Vanessa Pham & Jonathan Rogers were the first team to skate and scored 58.22. Their music selections were “To Ostatnia Niedziela” by Jerzy Petersburski and “Uccen (DWTS Remix)“ by the Taalbi Brothers. Rogers had a stumble at the end of the pattern series, earning a negative GOE for the element. Their twizzles earned level 3 and the rotational lift was level 4. The fourth place dancers train in Houston, TX.
Olivia Ilin & Dylan Cain made their US Nationals debut and scored 57.57 points for fifth place. The music was “Tango – Composition by Mgzavrebit and “Uccen (DWTA Remix)” by Taalbi Brothers. The Maryland based team scored a perfect eight of eight Key Points, earning 12.43 points. Both twizzles and both Midline sequences were level 3.
Kristina Bland & Matthew Sperry rounded off the top six teams. Their dance to “Querer” and Queviyera” by Cirque Du Soleil received a 57.53. The pattern scored seven of eight Key Points. The Twizzles were levels 3 and 4: each Midline Step Sequences earned level 2. The team trains at the Arctic Edge in Michigan.
The defending National Champions, Leah Neset & Artum Markelov did not skate up to expectations. A Diagonal Step sequence fall and mistake in one pattern dance disrupted the flow of the program. Neset wore an arm splint. Their music was “Backstage Romance” by Ricky Rojas, Robyn Hurder and the original Broadway cast of Moulon Rouge! The Musical. The score was 56.19.
The Free Dance began with the 2022 US Champions, Neset and Markelov, over 12 points behind the leaders. A rousing performance to selections from Pirates of the Caribbean, including “Hoist the Colours”, “Mermaids”, and “Drink Up Me Hardies”, by Hans Zimmer and “My Name is Barbossa” by Geoff Zanelli vaulted them into first place. Skating seventh, they held off the next six teams to claim a second straight Championship gold medal. Their Free Dance scored a personal best 105.56 and totaled 161.75.
Neset spoke about their return to the top of the podium, “It definitely took a lot of focus to come back, but I’m really happy with how it turned out in the end.”
Carhart & Horovyi, the leaders after the Rhythm Dance, delivered an etherial performance to “Long Way Down” and “Another Love” by Tom Odell. They began the program with over a 12 point lead. Unfortunately, a fall in the twizzles was costly. They scored 92.28 for the program and totaled 160.81 earning the silver medal. The team previously finished fifth at the 2022 U.S. Championships with a 130.26 score.
“We’re so grateful to have the opportunity to come and to be able to show everyone what we’ve been working on,” Carhart said. “We’re so blessed to [be] on the podium, but it’s a pleasure to skate with Volodymyr every day. We get along so well. I wouldn’t want to be here with anyone else.”
Hauer & Starr danced a captivating presentation of music by Thom Hanreich from the Pina documentary soundtrack about German dance choreographer Pina Bausch. The selections included “My One and Only Love” and “Tied Down”. The bronze medalists scored 92.26 in the Free Dance and totaled 157.73.
“It’s very modern dance, very contemporary, which is interesting because the documentary itself is very impressionable. The music is very very elegant and very nice to skate to. I like skating to that style of music,” noted Starr.
Hauer added, “Last year was our first year at juniors, and we were sixth at Nationals. To climb from where we were to this year, even from the start of the season feels like we’ve totally leveled up. It feels like we belong here. To earn a medal feels really great because last time we were in San Jose  we won gold in the juvenile competition.”
The Peal siblings performed an energizing dance to “Warthog Run” and “Finish the Fight” from the Halo the Series soundtrack by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori. Their 90.40 was fifth, but coupled with their Rhythm Dance score, the 152.31 total earned them the pewter medal. The team earned personal best scores in the free dance and overall.
Ethan explained their training strategy. “I think throughout the whole season, we’ve just been focused on bettering ourselves as a team and building out the strongest parts of our skates. So I feel like coming into here, we let go of anything that was potentially going to hold us back and solely focused on our strengths as a team.”
Pham & Rogers were fourth in the Free Dance with an elegant interpretation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade choreographed by Igor Shpilband, Pasquale Camerlengo and Roman Zaretzky. The Texas based team finished fifth with a 91.32 Free Dance score and total 149.54.
Bland & Sperry danced a Middle Eastern theme to “Wishful Thinking” by Raul Ferrando feat. Ararat Petrossian and “Unveiled” by Raul Ferrando. The University of Michigan students were sixth with a 74.51 score and 132.04 total.