With Northern Ontario Sectionals now a thing of the past, the local figure skating contingent had to contest berths at the 2017 Skate Canada Challenge in Montreal with athletes from right across Ontario. Despite the heightened level of competition, a pair of Sudburians still managed to turn the trick, with Stefanie Bernier (Junior Women) and Alyssa Murray (Senior Women) moving on with a shot at nationals.
Bernier endured a particularly interesting weekend, though her first takeaway after scoring 31.63 (short program) and 59.05 (long program) was a positive one. “I think it was my normal skate that I’ve been skating in practice and competition,” she said at practice this week. “The worst feeling is to skate and know that you can do so much better, making those stupid little mistakes. You really beat yourself up over them.”
Thankfully, "game day competition", so to speak, has become much more manageable for the young skater in recent years. "I find that I take the stress and pressure of competitions really well," she said. "In previous years, I never skated well in competition. In the past two years, I've taken the stress of competition and turned it into a positive thing, which motivates me."
When the dust settled, this would leave Bernier sitting in 18th place, with the top 15 plus two byes slated to move on from Sectionals in Oakville. What the seventeen year old did not notice was the presence of a “guest” skater (from Nova Scotia) in the grouping, an athlete who was obviously unable to secure one of the spots designated for Ontario representation.
Informed of the news while on the drive north, Bernier remains thankful for the opportunity to perform at Challenge for a second straight year. “It’s crazy the people that are there and the quality of their skating,” she said. “I know that I’m not going to expect much. It’s such an amazing experience going to Challenge. I absolutely loved watching the skating last year.”
Ironically, it was the role of "alternate" (18th place) that most bothered Bernier prior to receiving the good news by phone from Murray. "It's the worst spot," said Bernier. "You can get a call at any time, anything could happen, it's happened before."
"You are still training your programs, you're still training like you're going to Challenge, but then you don't go, you don't get the jacket. It's not a fun time. It kind of gives you that little bit of hope, but you don't want to get your hopes up. I would rather be last than be the alternate."
For Murray, a third year Bio Chemistry major at Laurentian University, the trek to Challenge is hardly a new one. In fact, it’s been pretty much part and parcel of her winter skating schedule for some time now, regardless of the destination.
“For three years in a row, we were in Regina (Saskatchewan),” she noted. “That’s not a very fun place to be at the beginning of December. It’s very cold, it wasn’t my favourite place to go. I like to be places that I’ve never really been before.” And while Murray has competed in Montreal twice before, she will look to build on a very solid performance in Oakville.
“I think I went out and skated pretty good programs,” she said. “For what I’ve been doing this year, they were some of my better skates of the season. My main goal was to go out there and do good attempts at my triples jumps. I wasn’t too disappointed about how I scored, or how I placed.”
Going into Challenge, the triple jumps, once again, become a main point of focus for Murray, all in an environment where precision grows increasingly easier to track. 'There's times where I do land them, fully rotated, and there's other times where I don't," she said.
"It's at the point where if I jump half a centimeter lower than before, or don't catch the rotation as quickly, I don't get the full rotation. Sometimes, it looks like I've rotated it, but I'm actually cheating it on the toe pick on the way out, or something like that. They (the judges) can see it on slo-motion reply."
"Under the old system, it was different - they didn't have all this technology," Murray noted with a laugh. Looking to simply "skate her best" at Challenge, the Sudbury Skating Club veteran knows that her years of competition are rapidly dwindling.
"Right now, I'm still debating about next year," Murray confirmed. "I know that I will have a thesis project to work on and it's a lot of hours in the lab. I've talked to some of the fourth year students and they're really busy all the time, so I don't know if it will be feasible. I don't think I would quit entirely, I would still skate for fun."
Bernier and Murray are off to Montreal from November 29th through until December 4th.