Arts & Entertainment

Local Skaters Seek to Make Mark at Upcoming U.S. Championships

exandria's Ashley Wagner. Photo: J. Barry MartinAs the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul, Minn., draw closer, Ashley Wagner of Alexandria is feeling the excitement. Senior ladies skate their short programs on Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Xcel Energy Center. After third-place finishes in the junior ladies competition at the 2007 U.S. Championships and World Junior Championships, she has already achieved some impressive results in her first senior season.

“My one problem with the Junior Grand Prix circuit was I didn’t feel challenged enough,” says Wagner, 16. “I had a great season [last year] and I had fun doing it. I skated well in the majority of my competitions, but I didn’t feel satisfied. I felt I was really ready for the senior circuit, so once I got out here it was great.”

After a couple of summer competitions to try out her new programs — the local Cherry Blossom competition and the Liberty competition in Philadelphia — Wagner made her senior Grand Prix debut. Despite being abundantly ready, she admits to some jitters at Skate Canada, where she finished fifth.

“I was on the ice practicing, and all of a sudden I look up and there’s (World silver medalist) Mao Asada in the stands,” Wagner says. “That’s when it hit me and I started to get really nervous. I got that out of my system in one day. [My coach] Shirley Hughes sat me down and gave me a reality check. After that I was good.”

In her second Grand Prix competition, Trophee Eric Bompard, she won the bronze medal and even defeated reigning U.S. Ladies Champion Kimmie Meissner in the free skate. “I went out there with confidence,” Wagner says. “That long program, there was something about it, I was so ready to go out there and put on a great performance. I was not nervous at all, which made it a really cool experience.”

Despite all the traveling, Wagner continues to attend public high school. Now in her junior year, teachers are aware of her skating commitments. “It really helped when I got air time on ESPN,” she says.

Wagner’s goal is a top-three finish at Nationals and a spot on the World team. “If I can’t have that, I want people to see my name and my skating as something to look out for,” she says.

Another NoVa girl hoping for a podium placement is novice ice dancer Megan Evans, who skates with Nathan Truesdell. In their second season together, they are looking for a podium placement. Evans was born in Manassas and began skating at age 10 in Ashburn, where her family still lives. After several years as a singles skater, she felt herself pulled toward ice dance. She tried out with Michigan-born Truesdell, and relocated to the Detroit area to train with Igor Shpilband, coach of four-time U.S. Ice Dance Champions Tanith Belbin & Benjamin Agosto, who won the silver medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics and have medaled three times at the World Championships.

“It was definitely scary at first,” says Evans, 17. “Just to be with all those elite skaters. They’re intimidating, but it has been an amazing experience. I couldn’t have asked for more. At the training facility [in Canton, Mich.] I have so many teams I can look up to. I had no bad technical habits that Igor had to redo. It’s an awesome base for my ice dancing, because I’ve learned the best right off the bat.

“I’ve learned so much about the sport itself,” she adds. “I never realized how much work went into it — off ice, on ice and certain training techniques. It’s just fascinating to me, all the different coaching techniques. Going to Nationals last year was an awesome experience. I learned more then than I’d learned in all my seven years of skating.”

Evans is the fourth of six children, and her parents, one sister and two brothers will be in attendance in St. Paul. The novice ice dancers compete on Sunday, Jan. 20, and Monday, Jan. 21. A top-three placement will likely earn Evans and Truesdell spots on next year’s Junior Grand Prix circuit. They hope this will be the beginning of a long and successful career together. “That’s the great thing about ice dancing, you can develop your skills through the years and be in your prime in your late 20s and early 30s,” Evans says.