Above: The senior ladies podium from last year's Nationals (from left to right: Rachael Flatt-silver, Mirai Nagasu-gold, Ashley Wagner-bronze, Caroline Zhang-pewter)
Skaters Featured in Part 2:
Noteworthy Results: 2008 Trophee Eric Bombard-5th, 2008 Skate Canada-6th, 2008 World Championships-1oth, 2008 Four Continents Championships-11th, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-5th, 2007 Nebelhorn Trophy Champion, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-4th
Pros: Competing in her 11th national championship, and 9th as a senior, Liang is one of the most experienced ladies competing in Cleveland. Liang has four triple jumps in her back pocket (lutz, flip, loop, toe), strong spins, improving flexibility and very creditable speed across the ice. At the recent Trophee Eric Bombard, Liang had seven of her ten non-jump elements marked out of a level 4. Liang only received two downgrades throughout her two Grand Prix events this season (Skate Canada, Trophee Eric Bombard). Liang was able to crack the top 10 at the World Championships last season, a placement that many thought she would be incapable of meeting.
Cons: Liang is notorious for flutzing, and while she did get two of her lutzes marked with an "!" at Skate Canada, she reverted back to her old ways at Trophee Eric Bombard, where she received the more severe "e" deduction on her lutz three out of three times. Liang has been known as a headcase throughout her entire career, examples dating back to the 2006 Nationals where an Olympic berth was legitimately within her grasp when she placed 3rd in the short program. Unfortunately, it didn't become a reality when she dropped to 5th after suffering two falls in the long. Bebe also appears to have stamina issues, as evidenced by her falling on two jump elements, one of them being a relatively simple double axel, after the half-way point of her free skate in Paris. Liang also doesn't have a triple salchow jump, limiting her to a possible six triple jumps in the long instead of seven.
Outlook: Hopefully, Liang enjoyed her time in Gothenburg, Sweden, last March because such an opportunity is unlikely to present itself again. Inconsistency, downgrades, and flutzing have further stunted the potential that Bebe has, which is an unfortunate reality for the very talented skater who was the first U.S. lady ever to successfully complete a triple lutz+triple loop, a combination she is no longer competing. Between this year's Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bombard, she averaged only 45.64 for program components between the two events in her long program, hardly competitive with the top contenders at this competition. However, one definite plus for Liang is that the last two years she has skated decently at the national championship. While Liang is unlikely to make the world team even at her peak form, she at least won't be forgotten.
Noteworthy Results: 2008 Junior Grand Prix Final-5th, 2008 JGP Great Britain-3rd, 2008 JGP Ostrava-2nd, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-2nd (junior), 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships (novice)
Pros: A solidly athletic and expressive skater with a very unique long program to the soundtrack of Inuyasha, a Japanese anime, Maxwell will be making her senior debut in Cleveland. She has been witnessed training triple axels (though she said in an Icenetwork article that she's put the jump on hold for the moment), as well as triple lutz+triple toes and triple flip+triple toes. She is currently competing all of the other triples besides the axel. In addition to that, Maxwell is capable of competing a triple flip+double toe and triple salchow+double toe+double loop after the half-way point of her long program. In an era where rotating jumps is ever-important, Maxwell had no downgrades throughout either of her skates at JGPF.
Cons: Maxwell has little experience in comparison with some of her competitors, which showed at the Junior Grand Prix Final. At that competition, Angela suffered three major errors, a fall on her triple lutz in the short, and a single flip and a missed triple flip in the long. These are not the kind of errors that Maxwell can afford to make if she wishes to be competitive for a Grand Prix spot next season. Maxwell was only credited with doing one jump combination for her long program at JGPF. She also simplified the back-end of her planned triple toe+triple toe combination to a double toe and replaced her triple loop with an easier triple toe later on in the program. Maxwell's non-jump elements are in definite need of improvement, with her receiving one level 1 and six level 2s in South Korea. Her PCS marks were only the 4th highest in the long program (44.40), and 6th highest in the short (21.96), and there is no doubt that these marks will have to improve substantially for Maxwell to become a top contender in the U.S. and abroad.
Outlook: Maxwell, who recently made a coaching change from Robin Wagner to Olga Orlova (after originally being coached by Natalia Mishkutenok), has the confidence, content, and artistry to become a contender on the national and possibly international stage, although she is going to have to wait her turn. Maxwell's PCS marks have been less than desirable internationally, and will have to learn and grow from the experience of competing at her first senior competition. While a world team berth is almost out of the question, a top 10 finish is possible for Maxwell in Cleveland. Such a placement could get her onto the junior world team, which would be a first time experience for this self-proclaimed "I'm not into brand names" girl.
Noteworthy Results: 2008 Cup of Russia-8th, 2008 Skate America-8th, 2008 World Championships-7th, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-7th, 2007 Grand Prix Final-6th, 2007 Skate America Champion, 2007 World Championships-4th, 2007 Four Continents Championships Champion, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Champion, 2006 World Champion, 2006 Olympics-6th, 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-2nd
Pros: The only U.S. skater to have won a world title since Michelle Kwan in 2003, Kimmie Meissner has proved that she has a burning desire to get back to her top form by moving approximately 1000 miles away from home, living on her own, and temporarily giving up college. An experienced veteran who was a won a medal of every color at the national championship, Meissner is capable of triple-triple combinations and was seen landing triple axels at the practice sessions of last year's World Championship. An elegant short program to "Un Ange Passe" and a dramatic long program to "Concerto Grosso no. 11 in D minor" and "Adagio in G Minor" have expanded the artistic horizons of a skater who has been criticized in the past for her non-existent expression and airplane arms.
Cons: Meissner has gotten wrong-edge deductions in the past for her triple flip (though at Cup of Russia they appeared to be going away). However, one of the real reasons behind Meissner's decline in the standings is downgrades, receiving four of them at Cup of Russia, including a double axel. Meissner was also hammered with low levels on her non-jump elements this season, particularly at Cup of Russia where she received six level 1s throughout the course of the event. Interestingly, Meissner's total score at Cup of Russia was actually lower than at Skate America (131.36 at COR, 135.92 at SA), despite the fact that Meissner's performance was superior to the eye in Moscow than it was in Everett. This is evidenced by the fact that Meissner suffered three falls at Skate America, and had none at Cup of Russia.
Outlook: Meissner's PCS marks have plummeted since her meltdown beginning in December 2007 at the Grand Prix Final, only receiving 25.32 in the short and 48.64 in the long at Cup of Russia. Meissner winning the world title was the best and worst thing that ever happened to her. The best because it gave her publicity, a name to the international skating community, and several miscellaneous opportunities she would not have otherwise had. However, it became the worst thing that ever happened to her career because it caused much more pressure on her and her alone to continue the dominant reign of U.S. ladies in figure skating, with that and iffy jumping technique contributing to her demise. This national championship is really about putting her name back into the hat of possible contenders for the 2010 Olympic team. Realistically speaking, she won't be going to worlds and that shouldn't be of concern to Meissner; been there, done that. While she may not be under pressure for a trip to L.A., she is under pressure here to secure a good finish (preferably top 5), which would allow her to lock up some coveted grand prix assignments next season. If all goes according to plan, she could get herself back into the graces of the international judges to culminate in making the Olympic team a year from now. As for the jumps, Meissner needs to dump her triple-triples immediately in favor of using the triple toe as a solo jump, a double axel+triple toe combination in the long, or an easier triple toe+triple toe. Downgrades are going to be Meissner's biggest nemesis for her quest to go to Vancouver.
Noteworthy Results: 2008 Junior Grand Prix Final-6th, 2008 JGP Courchevel Champion, 2008 JGP Madrid Champion, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-4th (junior), 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final-4th
Pros: Musademba, another skater who is making her first appearance on the senior level in Cleveland, has had a solid start to her year, placing 1st at both of her junior Grand Prix assignments and placing 6th in the final. Musademba has five triple jumps that she is currently competing (all except the axel) and has been credited with taking off of the correct edge for both her flip and lutz. Musademba also beat Becky Bereswill at the Junior Grand Prix Courchevel this year, and also received three level 4s for her non-jump elements at JGPF.
Cons: Musademba had a shaky outing at the Junior Grand Prix final, placing eighth out of eight skaters after the short before moving up to sixth after the long. After suffering a fall on her triple flip in the short and later going on to under rotate her triple lutz, Kristine under rotated two jumps in the long and had a very awkward fall on a double toe loop. While Kristine skated nervously in South Korea, even when she does put it together her scoring potential is nothing to drop your jaw over, receiving a mere 89.84 for a program with five cleanly hit triples at the Junior Grand Prix Courchevel. Musademba's PCS marks were the 2nd-lowest at the Junior Grand Prix Final in the long program (41.76).
Outlook: Musademba has a legitimate shot at making the top 10 at Nationals and while making the world team is a virtual impossibility, a trip to junior worlds would be great experience for the 16-year-old from Washington, D.C. If she wishes to become a top-rate skater, Musademba will need to work on the artistic components of her skating, especially musicality and flow. And of course improving the consistency of her jumps and avoiding downgrades will be key as well. Musademba could get on NBC's last nerve, however, if she is to take Emily Hughes' spot as one of the top 10 skaters after the short program that will be broadcast in the free.
Noteworthy Results: 2008 NHK Trophy-8th, 2008 Skate Canada-5th, 2008 World Junior Championships-3rd, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Champion, 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final Champion, 2007 World Junior Chamionships-2nd, 2007 U.S. National Champion (junior)
Pros: During the last two years Nagasu has peaked at the national championship, upsetting favorite Caroline Zhang to win the junior title in 2007 and the senior title in 2008. Nagasu won last year's event despite under rotating a the back-end of a triple lutz-triple toe combination in her long program, as well as suffering a fall on a double axel. Her short program score at last year's junior worlds (65.07) has only been surpassed by two skaters this season (Yu-Na Kim, Mao Asada), and that was with a wrong-edge deduction on her triple lutz. Nagasu's scores are aided by her non-jump elements, including her spins and spirals which showcase astounding flexibility. Nagasu received the highest program component scores of all the ladies in both programs at last year's Nationals.
Cons: Nagasu has had a grand total of 13 jumps downgraded thus far this season, and some of them were double jumps as well. Nagasu has struggled with fully-rotating jumps in the past, and having grown to the height of 5'1'' has not helped her out in the least. There were past rumors that the Japanese Skating Federation was trying to court Nagasu into skating for Japan, but any such hopes of JSF doing so went straight to the grave when Nagasu finished 8th at the NHK Trophy in Tokyo, not being credited with landing a single triple jump throughout the entire competition. Nagasu also had three non-jump elements that were below a level 3 at that particular event. She also appeared to have stamina issues at both competitions, further evidenced by her falling on her footwork in the long program at this year's Skate America.
Outlook: If Nagasu were to put it all together like she did when winning the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she could actually be U.S.A.'s best hope of a ladies medal in Vancouver, and that includes Sasha Cohen. Nagasu has all the ingredients: spins, spirals, artistry, skating skills, and speed, but those jumps have to be consistently landed and consistently rotated in order for Nagasu to stand a chance internationally. Nagasu's PCS marks weren't overly dreadful at NHK, which means that the judges still appreciate her talent. Citing that jumps are Nagasu's big issue, many have suggested that it would be wise to leave her coach, Charlene Wong, and go to a coach who specializes in jumps. Rafael Artunian, Richard Callaghan, and Brian Orser are some possible "jump doctors" that could help Nagasu with her under rotations and her consistency. However, it is unclear whether such a change is at all likely to happen, as Nagasu seems pretty comfortably situated with Charlene Wong, and her parents are reliant on running their restaurant in order to make a living. As for this championship, there are many unknown factors regarding Nagasu's potential placement. How much Nagasu has improved from NHK is unknown, and there is also the factor of a lenient caller who will be less likely to downgrade Nagasu's jumps, thus providing her with an unfair advantage. While she may have the most potential of all the U.S. girls, Mirai shouldn't be stepping foot on the ice in L.A. or Vancouver until she has proven that she can rotate her jumps consistently, and with authority.
Noteworthy Results: 2008 NHK Trophy-4th, 2008 Cup of China-4th, 2008 World Figure Skating Championships-16th, 2008 Four Continents Championships-8th, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-3rd, 2007 Trophee Eric Bombard-3rd, 2007 World Junior Championships-3rd, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-3rd (junior)
Pros: Wagner is one of only five skaters to have broken 60 in the short program thus far this season in international competition. Ashley has competed triple lutz+triple loops before, and gave the strongest performance of her career thus far at last year's nationals. Wagner, now coached by Priscilla Hill, has wisely rearranged the jumping layout for the long program in such a way to allow her to do seven triples without risking a triple-triple or doing the lutz twice, as she has gotten several wrong-edge deductions on her lutz in the past. Wagner has demonstrated solid improvement in her artistry this season, with a romantic short to "Somewhere in Time" and a dramatic, powerful long to "Spartacus." This has been reflected in her program component scores, with Wagner receiving a 54.56 in the long program at NHK, the highest PCS marks awarded in a long program this season for an American lady.
Cons: Wagner is a chronic flutzer, the only time where she didn't receive an "e" deduction at a major international meet was during the short at this year's NHK, where she still received an "!" Wagner has been prone to getting deducted for under rotating her triples, getting downgraded for two at NHK and one at Cup of China earlier this season. Wagner has yet to show a triple-triple this year and had three errors on her jumps in the long at NHK, causing some to think that her artistic improvement has come at the expense of her maintaining the solidity and consistency of her triple jumps. Wagner's seasons best in the long has been surpassed by Alissa Czisny, Rachael Flatt, and Caroline Zhang thus far this season.
Outlook: Unless if her triple-triples start becoming incredibly consistent, Wagner will probably be wise to stick to doing a triple-double in the short, as her short has proven to have very high scoring potential already. One has to remember that part of the reason of Wagner's relatively shaky long at NHK likely had a bit to do with her rearranging the program so much between Cup of China and NHK. Wagner's seasons best is the second highest among the ladies competing in Cleveland (behind Flatt), and her program components average this season in the long (52.32) is the highest of all the U.S. ladies, including Czisny. Wagner was scored suspiciously high at last year's Nationals, especially looking at the protocols where she did not receive a single wrong-edge deduction. With all of this criteria considered, it seems logical to predict that Wagner has a very respectable chance at going to Los Angeles, although USFSA might be wary to send her after her weak showing last year.
Noteworthy Results: 2008 Trophee Eric Bombard-3rd, 2008 Skate Canada-5th, 2008 World Junior Championships-2nd, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-4th, 2007 Grand Prix Final-4th, 2007 Cup of China-2nd, 2007 Skate America-3rd, 2007 World Junior Figure Skating Champion, 2006 Junior Grand Prix Final Champion
Pros: Coached by Ming Zhu Li, a past coach of former world champion Lu Chen, Zhang is a tough competitor and a very talented young skater. Zhang's assets include having triple flip+triple toes in her arsenal for both programs, good consistency, and practically inhumane flexibility. Her signature "pearl spin" is a hotbed for +2 and +3 GOEs, and it is easy as 1+1=2 to recognize that Zhang is a ruthless perfectionist, as evidenced by almost every competition article where she is always quick to point out what she wishes to improve upon.
Cons: Unfortunately, just because Zhang is a perfectionist doesn't mean that her skating is without obvious flaws. First off, she has been criticized for her "mule kick" technique into her lutz and flip, as well as her flutzing her lutz, which still received an "e" wrong-edge deduction during the free skate at Trophee Eric Bombard. The flutz has required Zhang to reinstate a less valuable triple salchow into her long program, and put a triple loop into her short program. Like Nagasu, Zhang had a growth spurt over the summer, growing to the height of 5'2". Zhang got downgraded on both the front-end and back-end of her triple-triple in the long at Trophee Eric Bombard, as well as the back-end of that same jumping pass in the short. Zhang is also weak when it comes to speed and skating skills, and her program component marks are reflecting that. Her PCS average in the long this season is actually lower than that of Nagasu and Meissner.
Outlook: While Zhang is a competitor, she has some serious technique issues that if not addressed will certainly have a negative impact on her overall skating in the future. Zhang has fallen short of expectations and skated below her best at the last two national championships, and has been receiving lower PCS marks and downgrades this season. Also noteworthy is that Zhang placed lower than Nagasu during the long last year at Nationals, where Zhang essentially skated the best she could and Nagasu had one fall, one downgrade, and one wrong-edge deduction on her lutz that she isn't as prone to getting as Zhang. Many are putting Zhang up against Wagner for the second ticket to L.A. (assuming Flatt wins), and it really seems as though Wagner has the advantage over Zhang in more ways than one. However, it is worth mentioning that Zhang's personal bests in the short (62.40) and the long (114.66) are higher than those of Wagner or even Flatt, and if she were to get to the level she was at where she placed 4th at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season, Caroline would be a shoo-in to go.
Gold: Rachael Flatt-Consistent as all get out, rotates her jumps, and performed brilliantly last year. A recent video of her performing her short program at a judges' critiquing session at Broadmoor Skating Club shows Flatt to be looking very fit and confident.
Silver: Ashley Wagner-Has improved artistically and hopefully can get it together technically. Peaked at nationals last year and was scored very well, and with the international judges warming up to her she seems like a logical girl to send to Worlds.
Bronze: Caroline Zhang-Has had issues at Nationals in the past and could receive substantial deductions for under rotations and flutzing, but is a first-rate competitor who one can never count out.
4th/Pewter: Alissa Czisny-Has been inconsistent and the same is true for her history at Nationals, but she has made improvements in her jumping technique this season and has all the other ingredients for a great skate and big marks.
5th: Mirai Nagasu-A Japanese article after her long at NHK mentioned how disappointed and angry Nagasu was with her performance in Japan; if history means anything she'll do very well in Cleveland, but hopefully USFSA has the message that a strict caller is necessary for the championship and that Nagasu getting away with downgrades could prove to be disastrous if she goes to Worlds.
6th: Kimmie Meissner-Surely will have improved from the Grand Prix series and will have very little pressure on her to do well. Likely won't be at the form she was when she won her world, four continents and national titles, however.
7th: Beatrisa Liang-Generally skates decently at Nationals, and has far more experience than some of the younger skaters coming up.
8th: Becky Bereswill-With decent artistry and decent jumps, Becky would like to improve from her 10th place finish from last year.
9th: Alexe Gilles-Elegant skater with solid jumps, has polishing to do and more experience to gain.
10th: Katrina Hacker-Beautiful skater but doesn't have the content to contend for the higher placements; I wish her all the best if this is indeed her swan song.
Predictions for World Team: Rachael Flatt, Ashley Wagner
Predictions for Four Continents Team: Rachael Flatt, Ashley Wagner, Caroline Zhang
Predictions for Junior World Team: Becky Bereswill, Alexe Gilles, Angela Maxwell
That is all.