Tillsonburg skaters strong at Western Ontario Sectionals

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MADELINE JELSMA

Tillsonburg Skating Club's Madeline Jelsma had the skate of her life at the Western Ontario Sectional Championships in Niagara Falls, Nov. 1-3.

Third in the Juvenile Women U14 division, Jelsma qualified for the Ontario Winter Games in the Muskoka Region, Feb. 27-March 2, 2014. Twenty-six sports will be featured at the Provincial Games, including figure skating, with more than 3,000 athletes, coaches and managers participating, and 1,000 volunteers to help make it happen in communities like Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Huntsville and Orillia.

"I had a lot of confidence in myself," said Jelsma, who scored 30.06 in her free skate in Niagara Falls. "I was really focusing and taking deep breaths, and just going for it. I wasn't afraid to make any mistakes."

The 12-year-old edged out close challenges from Burlington (4th) and Chatham (5th) skaters to finish 3.73 points away from a gold medal, won by Kitchener's Olivia Han.

"I've been working really hard leading up to this competition," said Jelsma, "and I think I 'had it' that day. I think I really pushed myself for this competition."

Great warmups do not always translate into great skates, she noted, but she felt pretty good in the warmup. And even better after her medal-winning program.

"I felt excited and proud of myself," she said, excited to be representing WOS in the Ontario Winter Games along with Tillsonburg Skating Club's Andrew Balint and Dorchester's Rachel LaFleche, who also trains at the Tillsonburg club.

It wasn't an instant bronze medal, however. Jelsma had to wait for three more flights – almost half of the 32-skater division still had to perform. Knowing it would take 4-5 hours, she went shopping with her mother (and coach).

"I was totally distracted," she laughed, recalling a rather successful shopping trip. "Yes! I bought a whole new outfit."

When the scores were eventually posted back at the arena she found out she was still third. But the medal was not as important as having 'the skate of her life' and how it felt in that moment.

"I was pretty calm," she noted.

Last year in Paris Jelsma had finished third in a nine-skater Juvenile Women U11 division at Sectionals. Her score in the U11 Juvenile division also won a bronze, three points behind rival Olivia Han.

Focusing on her various double-double combinations, Jelsma had considered moving up to Pre-Novice but like Han elected to stay in Juvenile one more season.

"I felt like I made the right choice because I wasn't ready for Pre-Novice. I just wanted to take a year and get all my jumps consistent."

Her combinations remain a priority as she prepares for Pre-Novice in the new year.

"I want to have all my double-double combinations and I really want to have Level 3 and up spins."

ANDREW BALINT

Tillsonburg Skating Club's Andrew Balint was in a league of his own at the Western Ontario Sectional Championships in Niagara Falls, Nov. 1-3.

Balint, 15, won the Novice Men's division at Sectionals scoring 25.99 in his short program, 44.19 in the long, and totaling 70.18.

"There were a couple errors in my program, errors that I wish weren't there. I was mentally okay going into it... I'm not sure what happened – it just didn't happen."

It was good for gold, but not his best performance of the season.

"First and last," Balint joked, noting he was the only Pre-Novice Men's skater at Sectionals.

"My only competition was injured. He couldn't skate so it was only me. I wish there was other competitors to skate against, it would have been more fun."

Balint also won at Sectionals last year in Paris, leading a seven-man Pre-Novice division (77.49). While Balint moved up to Novice, most of last year's competition elected to stay in pre-novice.

His first-place finish in Niagara Falls qualified Balint for the next stage, but he did not register for the Western Challenge in Regina.

"I do have Ontario's in March. I'll be trying to work toward my goals, make everything more consistent. My triples are getting a bit better, but it's still hard – the consistency."

TAYA STEADMAN

Taya Steadman's transition from juvenile into pre-novice has been smooth.

Her pre-novice short program at the Western Ontario Sectionals in Niagara Falls was a good one, shooting her into the Top 10.

"It was really good – my short program was like the best I could skate," said 13-year-old Steadman, who followed up a 25.19 short with 40.01 in the free program, finishing 15th overall. "My long was really good, just a couple minor mistakes."

In her first Pre-Novice she's been in the top third, achieving her goal of clean programs.

"I just wanted to have clean programs. I knew that I probably wouldn't place this year, but I think I think I showed them how much I've improved. I feel a lot stronger when I skate now."

Steadman learned some new techniques watching the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ont. last March.

"I think that really helped me. I could see the different techniques... and apply them to my skating."

She attributed her improvement to off-ice and on-ice training, and more confidence.

"I've been doing different types of off-ice, so it works different muscles. And I've been working harder on the ice too. I think once you start to actually land jumps, your confidence goes up and it's easier to land jumps... and learn new jumps.

"It's not just doing it over and over again. It's doing it over and over again 'right.' Properly. You have to work on it a lot and make sure you have the technique and the height and everything. I think the technique's really important."

Steadman and Balint both received a grant towards their skating and training from Skate Canada Western Ontario Section. Steadman represented the Champions Training Centre (Hespeler) at the Octoberfest competition in Barrie.

"They picked 10 skaters out of all the people at the Champions Training Centre to represent them," said Steadman. "It was really a great honour and I would like to thank Skate Canada Western Ontario and the training centre, once again, for this great opportunity."

She also thanked her Tillsonburg Skating Club coaches, Penny Jelsma and Mary Hartwick.

"I couldn't have done it without them."

Balint and Steadman will both be skating in the Tillsonburg Skating Club's Holiday Showcase, Dec. 20, and the year-end Ice Show in April. Between those two shows, Steadman said her goal is to continue training hard... and improving.

"I'm still trying to get my double axel – I have half-a-turn left, so it's pretty good - and get my jumps stronger. "

AVERY VANWYNSBERGHE

Overall, Avery Vanwynsberghe rated her pre-novice skate at the Western Ontario Sectionals "pretty good."

"My short program was not as good as it normally is," said Vanwynsberghe, who scored 21.63 in Niagara Falls, Nov. 1-3, noting she had scored a higher short-program mark in Barrie three weeks earlier at Octoberfest (22.83).

She landed her jumps, but a momentary loss of focus – possibly looking ahead to another element - resulted in a fall in a corner skating too close to the boards.

"I don't know why. It happened when I was skating into my flip. All my jumps were good, but I placed lower than what I had hoped. I knew it was just that one part."

She came back with a strong long program, and no falls, to score 40.52. That mark ranked her 18th in the free skate event, giving her a total of 62.15 and 24th overall in a 45-skater Pre-Novice Women division.

"My long program was really good. It was all clean and I was pretty happy with it," she said, noting one of her goals this year was to score 40 in her long program.

"I think my overall solos are getting more clean, more consistent. I'm still working on my double axel. It is getting there, I just need to work on it a little more."

During the 2013 season, her third in pre-novice, Vanwynsberghe continued to work on her double axel, expected to be a key jump when she moves up to novice. And going into 2014, her focus will be much the same.

"Controlling my nerves, being more relaxed. I can do all the jumps - I have everything. But I just need to focus and take one jump at a time."

A volunteer at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in March, Vanwynsberghe was able to see first-hand how skaters handled the pressure differently.

"The pair from Canada, they were goofing around backstage. Some pairs were very calm, very focused. You just have to pick what's good for you. That's helped me a lot."

Tillsonburg Skating Club will be presenting its annual holiday showcase on December 20 in the Kinsmen Memorial Arena.

"We're doing our Christmas showcase now. Then we'll be working on getting our jumps under control. We have carnival (Ice Show 2014) in April, then the competitive season starts back up again."

KEIGHRAN ROCKEFELLER

Ten-year-old figure skater Keirghan Rockefeller had 'home ice advantage' skating in the WO John McKay Memorial Invitational in Tillsonburg Saturday.

Her goal going into the Level 3 Women WO Development Program event was simple.

"To do a clean program," said Rockefeller a week earlier.

Simple to explain, but harder to execute. The young Tillsonburg Skating Club singles skater did not have a clean skate in the Pre-Juvenile Women U11 division at the Western Ontario Sectionals in Niagara Falls, Nov. 1-3.

"Not my best program," said Rockefeller, who was confident going in, but had some difficulty on spins and jumps she can usually do in practice.

"I can do a flying camel... and I can do an axel-hop-axel just fine."

She said it was just a matter of doing them in competition – putting it all together.

"More practice," she nodded, planning to keep the same program going into the Nov. 23-24 John McKay Memorial.

Two flights were combined Saturday to form one large 19-skater Development Program event. Rockefeller excelled, finishing third overall in a flight that included skaters from Hamilton, Kitchener, Burlington, London, and Windsor.

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