SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.- The Coyotes Skating Club will be well represented at the US Figure Skating Championships, Jan. 20-27 in Omaha, Neb., sending three male skaters, including senior Douglas Razzano, and four pairs teams in all levels, headlined by Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin.
“We have a good group going, it’s nice to have the junior Nationals (juveniles) combined with Nationals now, so we have a bigger group of kids going,” said coach Doug Ladret, the former Canadian Olympic pairs skater. “The excitement’s more and the support’s more between the skaters.”
The junior pairs teams of Caitlin Fields and Jason Pacini, and Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage, intermediate male Micah Tang, juvenile pairs Megan Griffin and Andrew Civiello, and juvenile boy Camden Pulkinen complete the lineup. Ladret coaches all of the athletes except Pulkinen, who Karen Gesell coaches.
“I think every one of the young ones we have going here, without a doubt, could be on the podium,” Razzano said.
TIFFANY VISE AND DON BALDWIN
After finishing sixth at both Skate Canada and the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, 26-year-old Tiffany Vise and 35-year-old Don Baldwin are gaining notoriety on the Grand Prix circuit. They finished ninth at Nationals last year in San Jose and sixth the previous season, and with the defending medal winners absent this year, it could be their opportunity.
“I’m feeling pretty confident, there’s only 10 pairs teams so it’s pretty wide open,” Vise said. “Just getting more international experience is really helping us expand our programs.”
Returning from Russia, they decided to bring back music from three years ago, which Vise said is unusual.
“We’re unison, I know where he is, he knows where I am, this is our fourth Nationals,” said Vise, who began skating at 9 and switched from singles to pairs at 19. “I love the throws, I love the lifts, doing it for such a long time now, I don’t get scared at all.”
Vise and Baldwin have the free skate score needed to qualify for the World Championships in London, Ontario, but will have to achieve the standard short program score at Four Continents in Osaka next month. Scores from national meets don’t factor into the qualificatons for Worlds.
Douglas Razzano, 24, was two spots from the podium last season after finishing fourth in the long program. In 2011, he scored the fifth-highest short program but ended 10th. This will be his 13th appearance, 10 senior and three junior, and he has met the technical standard for Worlds.
“Every year I have a love-hate relationship with it,” Razzano said of Nationals. “I love what I do so much, but it can be so stressful. The pressure is a privilege, but the higher up you get, the more expectation is there from yourself and US Figure Skating. I’m glad to be there, but I don’t always love the feeling of competing. But, Nationals is great, the fans are great, the host cities do a great job, it’s a great atmosphere.
“I live for that feeling at the end of a program, where I’m standing in the middle of the ice, thinking ‘Wow, look what I just did!’ I love the training, I love the structure of it.”
Only two American men will qualify for the World Championships, which will determine how many spots will be available for next year’s Sochi Olympics.
With all of that pressure, he has gone to a hypnotist for relaxation methods.
“In the last few years, I have grown so much as a competitor,” he said. “It gave me a new way of looking at things. I don’t get as upset when things aren’t going well.”
Recently, this season, he was ninth at Skate America and second to Germany’s Peter Liebers at the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria, of which he won the short program.
“He’s not perfect at the moment,” Ladret said, “and he needs the time, with two weeks that’s plenty of time, for him to get into the moment. He’s landing some quads and doing clean programs, and that’s where we need him to be.”
Razzano will contend with the likes of Jeremy Abbott, Evan Lysacek, Ross Miner, and Adam Rippon for the podium.
“I’ve come up with such a deep group,” Razzano said. “It’s so rewarding, knowing how hard it is, and you’ve made it pretty close to the top, it’s exciting.”
MEGAN GRIFFIN AND ANDREW CIVIELLO
At 10 years old, 60 pounds and in the fifth grade at Pope John Catholic School, Megan Griffin and her partner, 16-year-old Andrew Civiello have only been together since July. Civiello, a sophomore at Horizon High School, was sixth at Junior Nationals last year with a different partner who became injured.
“We need to work on jumps and skating to our fullest, performing,” Andrew said. “When my family moved here, by the ice rink, we decided I should take skating lessons. Right when the ice rink went up, my mom started taking us to skating lessons in case there was a birthday party, and my brother and I just caught on to it.”
He said he enjoys pairs because it’s more enjoyable with another person on the ice.
“My mom’s friend had an extra pair of skates and we decided to do Learn to Skate, and I was six,” Megan said of how she began skating.
Twelve-year-old Camden Pulkinen, a seventh grader at Arizona College Preparatory School, won both the regional and sectional championship this season.
“I think it’s exciting, it’s a good opportunity to experience Nationals and see what it’s like,” he said. “I want to watch the older people because one day I want to be like them, and I want to accomplish this year taking the podium or first place. My strengths are my technical elements and I jump high- and I smile”
A former hockey player, Camden went to all of his sister’s competitions and thought it might be fun to try. His mother asked the six year old if he would like to join and he agreed. He has now been with Gesell half of his life.
“I say Cam’s got a lot of personality,” Gesell said. “Not only is really good technically, but he brings a lot of charm into his skating. He’s very interesting to watch.”
CAITLIN FIELDS AND JASON PACINI
Jason Pacini, 22, began skating 10 years ago in Fort Collins, Colo., after hurting his knee playing a variety of other sports. Three years into his training, a coach asked him to try pairs. Following a back injury to his original partner, he was matched with Caitlin Fields, 17, who was skating with Max Settlage.
“I feel really good about going to Nationals this year,” Pacini said. “My partner and I, this is our third Nationals together, we’ve been training pretty hard. This is our first year at junoirs, we did novice the past two years.
“For the most part, we get along really well, we like to see each other do well and encourage each other more than most other pairs teams. I see other pairs teams, it’s very vigorous, there’s a lot of fighting, a lot of rivalry. It’s a lot more beneficial to have a postive relationship, not saying we don’t have our fights.”
Pacini, who studies journalism and physics at Arizona State, said things that set them apart from the other teams in novice are average for the junior level.
“Every time you jump a level, it’s exponential, people don’t realize that,” he said. “The level of skating at each level is unbelievable,” he said. “We are focusing on stamina, power and strength, and hopefully, the judges will recognize that.”
NBC will have the TV coverage on Jan 26 and 27.