With Santa Skate behind them, an eager young group of skaters representing the Nickel Blades Skating Club (Garson/Coniston) were anxiously preparing for the second half of the 2017-2018 interclub season.
Rainbow Interclub (Chelmsford - January) leads into Make it a Date to Skate (North Bay - February), Island Skate (Little Current - March) and Let's Skate (Sudbury - April), with a much smaller number of skaters training throughout the summer.
Now in her third year with the club, coach Cassie Lee Tario is pleased with the foundation that is being built. "Our Can Skate program is probably one of the biggest ones in Sudbury," she said during a recent practice session at the Toe Blake Arena in Coniston.
"Our age level is younger compared to some clubs. We have a lot of "Can Skaters", and from there, we do pull up a lot of "Star Skaters". Can Skate helps our club grow." With most of these athletes hitting the ice in September and October, the first competition of their schedule in December in Port Carling helps provide a benchmark for the balance of the winter.
"We try and aim to put the solo out there, put their program out there, and see what the judges think about it," said Tario. "Will be be marked as a high program? Do we need to add more to it? It's also about making sure the skater has a little bit of confidence before some bigger events come into play. We want to make sure we put our skaters in the best position to succeed."
Just eight years old and skating competitively for just the second season, Lylia Vallillee has overcome her initial introduction to the sport, a crossover that carried some challenges. "I'm mostly brand new to figure skating, but I was playing hockey before," stated the grade three student at St John's in Garson.
"The skates are different. I couldn't even stop with my figure skates, I would crash into the boards all the time." Performing for the judges for the very first time at Island Skate - 2017, Vallillee and her coaches were thrilled at the progress that was evident at Santa Skate.
"I was feeling really nervous, and excited," she said. "I was mostly excited all the way through my routine. I noticed that I didn't really care about what other people think of what I did. This was my second competition, and I knew what to do mostly now. I was used to it, so I just went out and had fun."
With that behind her, Vallillee turns her attention to fine-tuning her flip jump, back spin and loop jump. "I can do the loop jump the best of all of them," she said proudly. "I keep my head up, keep my arms up, and just do the jump."
Been there, done that, for 15 year old Cheyanne McCormick, who followed her older sister (Ciarra) into a sport that did not necessarily appeal to her initially. "I don't think it was so much of a connection with figure skating, but more of me being a bratty little sister and wanting to be like my older sister," said McCormick with a laugh.
"I was watching her and she was doing jumps and spins, she would get dresses and medals." She soon would find out there is far more to figure skating than all of this, including the need to deal with being out, all alone, on an ice surface where all eyes in the rink are glued to your every move.
"I still want to get better at performing for competitions, being confident about it," said the grade ten student at St Charles College. "I have pretty bad shakes - this sport is bad for me," she smiled.
"I want to land my axel this year, consistently, without cheating it. I'm working towards my double salchow." Pleased, overall, with her performances in Port Carling, McCormick was notably excited about tackling her interpretive skate this year.
"I was really confident going in," she said. "It depends a lot on the song. Last year, I thought the song would be fun to do, but it was a challenge. I find I've been experimenting over the years. For two years in a row, I had kind of a swing type of thing."
"I liked doing it, but I guess I didn't look really comfortable doing it. I guess slower songs seem to fit me more, songs where I can really hear the beat in it." In the end, she settled upon Last Carnival by Acoustic Cafe.
"I find when I am looking for music, I try and find songs that are different," McCormick continued. "This particular one, my sister found and it was in her list of picks that she was thinking about and then I stole it. For two years, I've been suggesting it to the coaches, and they let me skate to it this year."
The payoff came in competition. "She presented her interpretive better than she ever has in practice," noted Tario. Added to a solo performance that would see her land her second axel in her solo, earning first place in the Star 4 category, McCormick could look back on a good weekend at Santa Skate.
The same held true for several of her teammates. Fully rotating both axels in her program, Vanessa Major placed third in Star 4 and 1st in the interpretive. Following is a brief rundown of the remaining skaters, along with their coach's feedback:Lylia Vallillee: skated her first solo at Santa Skate and was able to execute some elements that she struggled with in practice
Bobbie Lafreniere Brabant: skated an amazing solo
Jade Provincial: skated a strong solo and interpretive
Alyssa Lachance: was able to wow the judges with her personality, earning good marks in both solo and interpretive
Erin Caverley: performed both her solo and interpretive much better than in practice
Stephanie Prior: noticeable improvement this year
Sarah Teddy: impressed coaches and judges with her presentation and enthusiasm, skating a great solo and her first interpretive