Recap: 2024 U.S. Championships – Junior
by Anne Calder
The 2024 U.S. National Championships were hosted by Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The downtown venue, home of the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets, is an official NHL sized ice surface. However, the actual ice was adjusted for the USFS competition. The OhioHealth Ice Haus, also inside the main arena and NHL sized, was the official practice ice. The location allowed easy access for the athletes to run through their programs and for fans to observe.
The Junior ice dancers skated their Rhythm Dance the first evening immediately following the Novice patterns. The judges, referees and technical panel remained the same for both levels. The only change was Specialist 1 became Specialist 2 and vice-versa for the Junior event.
The 1980’s themed Rhythm Dance had the audience moving and singing along with the music.
Leah Neset & Artem Markelov soared to an early lead with a 75.03 score to “Still Loving You” by the Scorpions and “I Hate Myself for Loving You” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. The Colorado Springs trained team hit all eight positive Key Points for their Rocker Foxtrot pattern. The lift and twizzles both earned level four.
Jenna Hauer & Benjamin Starr danced into second place with Tina Turner’s pop, rock signature song, “The Best”. The team earned seven of eight positive pattern Key Points and scored 64.55 points.
Yahli Pedersen & Jeffrey Chen made their Nationals team debut with “A Kind of Magic” and “Under Pressure” by Queen. The MIDA-based team scored 63.88 for third place. The rotational lift earned level 4.
Caroline Mullen & Brendan Mullen scored 61.08 and placed fourth. The siblings chose “Wake Me Up Before You Go” by WHAM and “Father Figure” by George Michael for their music. The twizzles and lift were level 4.
Elliana Peal & Ethan Peal scored 60.95 for their dance to Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately” and “Rhythm Nation.” The Nashville team earned level 3 twizzles and a level 4 rotational lift.
Kristina Bland & Matthew Sperry used Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” and “Cold Hearted” to score 52.74. The Novi, Michigan team had a bobble on the rotational lift and received a negative GOE, but earned level 4 for their twizzles.
The Free Dance began with 2023 U.S. Champions, Neset & Markelov with a commanding 10 point lead. The team had a gold medal performance to “Anytime, Anywhere” by Sara Brightman and “Cry” by Thomas Bergersen. The 109.08 program score and 184.11 total were personal bests.
Afterwards, Markelov spoke about their skate.“ We tried to enjoy our performance today and improve our core elements.’
“I really think we accomplished that,” Neset added.
Pederson and Chen moved up a notch from third place in the Rhythm Dance and scored a season best 95.09 for their “Phantom of the Opera” performance to earn the silver medal. Their total score was 158.97.
“We’re just here to skate and do our jobs, so anything on top of that is an added bonus,” Chen said.
The Peal siblings vaulted from fifth to third place to claim the bronze medal with a mesmerizing performance to selections from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. The program scored 91.15; the total was 152.10.
Elliana Peal on their performance, “Going into this free dance, there was definitely a lot of pressure because of [the] rhythm [dance] – although I thought we skated one of our best rhythms in the whole season. It wasn’t in our hands yesterday, so going into today, we had a very open mindset and nothing to lose. It helped us push through and it was up to us to give it our all.”
Hauer & Starr slipped to fifth place after a fall in the Choreographic Slide element. Their program, which included music from Notre-Dame de Paris scored 86.45. The 2024 Ice Dance Final gold medalists scored a total 151.00 to earn the pewter medal. The team missed both JGP assignments this season due to injury.
“We had to withdraw from our assigned JGP and all our international assignments early on,” Starr said. “It was a very difficult decision especially for me since I injured my back, which prevents you from doing anything. In July, I didn’t think I was going to be here. I’m so thankful to show you what we can do even if we didn’t have much time to prepare and develop it as much as we wanted.”
Hauer added, “Today isn’t exactly how we wanted to show it, but that doesn’t take away our love for it at all…It didn’t quite go right but this isn’t the end for us. It’s just one day, and we’re looking forward to continuing to perform this program.
The Mullen siblings slipped to fifth and out of medal contention after a disappointing twizzle set. The team danced to “Survivor” as a personal tribute for their fight back after missing the entire previous season due to injury. The program scored 88.63 and totaled 149.71.
Bland & Sperry finished sixth with music by Klergy – “Caught in the Fire” and “The Beginning of the End” (Ft. Valerie Broussard). The edgy, raw sounding program earned 81.11. Both programs totaled 133.85.
“Our free dance was strong in the components score which was what we’ve been training hard for. I felt like we definitely gave all we had to portraying our characters, and it showed our theme well,” Sperry noted.
“As this was our last season at the junior level we tried to set ourselves up to skate at the senior level by watching the amazing senior teams at our rink and copying their flow and presence on the ice. We feel we have a strong foundation and look forward to creating new senior programs!”
Leah Neset and Artem Markelov are the first skaters to win three U.S. junior titles and remain undefeated in the 2023-24 season.
Caroline Mullen and Blake Gilman are 2024 Scholastic Honors Team members.
Elliana and Ethan Peal set a new U.S. personal best in the free dance, while Caroline and Brendan Mullen set new U.S. personal bests in the free dance and total score.
Elliana Peal is a competitive dancer.
The Mullen siblings are swimmers. Brendan swims open water; Caroline swims for her HS team.
Athletes who are also attending universities:
Kristina Bland studies Political Science at the University of Michigan.
Jeffrey Chen studies Computer Science at the University of Michigan.
Artem Markelov studies Data Analytics and System Engineering at the University of CO Springs.
Brendan Mullen studies Computer Science at George Mason University.
Ethan Peal studies Aero Space Engineering at the University of Alabama.
Matthew Sperry studies Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan.
Benjamin Starr studies at Brandeis University.