When Tillsonburg skater Madeline Jelsma moved up to Pre-Novice Women's, the 13-year-old didn't expect a medal at the Nov. 7-9 Western Ontario Sectionals this year.
Not only did she medal, Jelsma's bronze qualified her for Skate Canada Challenge, Dec. 3-7, in Montreal, a national figure skating competition for pre-novice women.
Last year Jelsma had won bronze at the 2013 Sectionals as a 12-year-old in Juvenile Women (U14) in Niagara Falls, and followed that up with fifth at the Ontario Winter Games in Orillia last February.
With two new programs – Evita for the short and Russian classical Shostakovich for the long – and two new coaches, she skated into the 2014 season cautiously optimistic.
"I really, really like my programs this year," she said, but admitted it took some time to grow into them.
"I kept working up to it," said Jelsma. "I've been working toward this competition all year – Sectionals is the competition where you can move on. The more competitions I did, the more progress I made. Getting it done more, I just felt more comfortable with my programs."
Jelsma competed at Skate Detroit in July, Summer Sizzle (Waterloo) and COS Summer Skate (Thornhill) in August, Isabelle Henderson Memorial in September, and Barrie's Octoberfest.
"I've been working really hard – a lot of training before Sectionals, and a lot of extra hours with my coaches," she said, noting the extra weekend work.
Her expectations at Sectionals went up after a good short program at the Clearwater Arena in Sarnia, placing third with a score of 26.20, a fraction of a point behind Nicole Di Mauro of Burlington, and one point behind the leader, Olivia Farrow, also from Burlington. Jelsma was a full point ahead of fourth-place Paris skater Allison Eby.
"It blew me away," Jelsma smiled.
"I wasn't nervous – not as nervous as I was when I was younger. Last year at Sectionals, I don't know, it was like all of a sudden I wasn't nervous. There was a couple competitions this year, I was maybe a little, but at Sectionals," she said, shaking her head, "I wasn't nervous."
Skating fourth in the eight-skater final, her long program was also solid – she skated clean with her only miss coming on a double lutz near the end of the program.
"Usually I'm pretty good with my double lutz," she said, quite happy with her 46.45, fourth in the long, and overall third.
Di Mauro and Farrow changed spots with Di Mauro a clear-cut long program winner. Jelsma maintained her one-point margin over Eby, who edged out two more skaters from Burlington, which as a club had four out of the top six and eight of the top 20.
"I thought that I did the best that I could do – I was really, really happy," said Jelsma, clearing 70 combined points for the first time this season. "I wasn't expecting anything like that this year – it was going to be 'an experience' this year."
The top four pre-novice women qualified for Challenge, where Jelsma wants to land her double axel, as well as keeping her jumps, spins and double combinations at the level she skated in Sarnia.
"It (double axel) was just put in this year. I'm working on consistency."
It will be her first competition in Montreal – and her furthest from home. Her family will be driving to Pierrefond for the event.
Expectations in Montreal hinge on the double axel.
"It's close," she nodded. "Usually if you don't have that jump you're in the bottom half."
Going into the final weeks of her 2014 season, Jelsma wanted to thank all of her coaches – Alison Purkiss and Scott Rachuk. Mary Hartrick, and her mom, Penny.
Still training in Tillsonburg, Jelsma also travels twice a week to Komoka to work with Purkiss and Rachuk, who used to coach with Penny in Strathroy. Purkiss and Rachuk have also been Madeline's competition coaches this year.
"Just started that this year," she said, wanting to experience a different skating environment in Komoka, and a 'less personal' coaching experience.
"And I want to thank my grandma and grandpa for helping," Jelsma smiled, appreciating their assistance in getting her to Komoka for training.