On Cal Figure Skating’s Future

May 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

I wish longtime junior ladies’ Marissa Minovitz congratulations on graduating from Berkeley, and best wishes on her future aspirations. I wish Skating Club of San Francisco’s Kimberly Verzano congratulations on graduating from Lowell High (four years to go bonkers in Yonkers), as well as to fellow SCSF skater Magdalena Thornton, who leaves International High for Dartmouth. I wish junior skater Song King well in her health, her studies and her Greek professional and social commitments. I also wish synchro skater Annaleigh Yahata well with her studies and her Cal Dance Team commitment. Cal Figure Skating will continue on.


Dat Magic 8 Ball

You say it’s too early to be looking ahead at the Golden Bears and their future relevance in college skating, but it’s not.¬†I’m purposely skipping ahead to the 2014-2015 intercollegiate season because it’s the first time since 2009 that the Golden Bears will be without Laney Diggs. You might want to start the excommunication procedures.

Oh. My. God. How dare you!!!!11!

Here I am blaspheming in the Church of the Golden Bear.

Cal Figure Skating 0 A.D. (After Diggs) will be led by seniors Sean Sunyoto, Teressa Vellrath, Samira Damavandi, Sravani Kondapavulur, Janelle Unger, Katrina Phan, and Michelle Hong, as well as juniors Gina DeNatale, Jay Yostanto, Matej Silecky, Amy Nguyen, and Kelsey Chan.

The team will add synchro skater Skating Club of San Francisco’s Annalise Mahoney and 2013 Pacific Coast Sectionals competitor Sara Billman for the 2013-14 season, giving these ladies some experience heading into the 2014-2015 season. The Golden Bears will definitely recruit from their backyard, adding more diamonds in the rough from figure skating clubs such as San Francisco, St. Moritz, Peninsula (San Jose), and All Year (Carson City).

By that point, the Golden Bears will match the Denver Pioneers and the three East Coast teams in terms of depth that every championship-caliber team needs. If the Golden Bears want to stay relevant in the intercollegiate figure skating landscape, they must use up most, if not all of their 35 allotted entries in all competitions. This is necessary in order to compete with the Blue Hens and the Moose of figure skating, but even more so when the team attempts to replace a phenomenal skater in Laney Diggs.

4 years of college and graduation. Still shocking.

4 years of college and graduation. Still shocking.


“Get off me,” She Said to Tracy Porter

The Golden Bears lose undergraduate Laney Diggs to graduation, barring any acceptance to any Berkeley graduate school programs. That’s just one skater, am I right?

What a wonderful idea.

What a great idea….

In reality, you’re trying to replace a skater who has five US Championships appearances, carrying the Golden Bears team on her back though every single year she’s been at Berkeley. Whether it’s edges and three turns or nailing double axel combinations, Diggs is the clutch skater you want to ensure that you get to Intercollegiate Nationals every year. She finishes in the top 3 in every senior short program and free skate she has participated at the intercollegiate level. Her contributions at the dance events have added a layer of versatility to her game, while her gritty execution in the high team maneuver jumps never fails.

Mind = blown.

Mind = blown.

The boys have Diggs’ jumps covered in the high team maneuver, especially with other teams equipped to do triple lutz and axel combinations. But who else on the team can make up the points that Diggs earns in the senior short and championship free skate? What about the two dance events she can do?

A Laney-less Cal team seems unusual for Golden Bear skaters used to seeing Diggs put the team on her back. It’s made it simple for the team to make their minimum of two appearances at the regional competitions. It’s made it simple for the team to complain about the flight prices and hidden fees to get to the championship, instead of complaining about another year in which they didn’t make it at all. The 2014-15 season will be the time for Cal to show that it can stay relevant after Laney Diggs graduates.

If the team succeeds without Laney P., I might just have to.

If the team succeeds without Laney P., I might just have to.

The Positives

It’s not all doom and gloom for the flagship University of California’s team. After the intercollegiate championships have been held in Hanover, NH and some city in the Midwest, the Championships come rightfully home to the Western Conference. Since Colorado hosted the last the the Championships were in the West, Katherine Specht and the USFSA committee of making things happen can flip a coin to choose between New Mexico and California next. The Golden Bears have a great chance to sleep in their own beds or at the very least, stay in their own time zone, giving them another advantage in trying to make the top 3.

If Jay Yostanto no longer is obligated to do his Junior Grand Prix assignments, he will team with Matej Silecky to form a powerful 1-2 combo in the junior men’s events. Sean Sunyoto resumes at the senior level, though he will no longer have a sibling rivalry in dance when Amanda graduates in 2014. Sravani, Michelle, Katrina, Teressa will continue to make up the core of the high team maneuvers along with Sara Billman, while Annalise, Janelle, Amy, and Samira holding the fort down at intermediate team maneuvers. Kelsey Chan will keep accompanying Teressa Vellrath at the gold and international solo level dances, while Samira accompanies Sean at the senior and junior dance levels.

Oh. My. God. How dare you!!!!11!

Oh. My. God. Really!? All the triple axels!!!!11!?

The seniors and juniors listed above will have a figure skating season or three to know what it takes to get as many points as possible, whether that means skating up to the championship free skate at the junior or senior levels or passing the tests for different levels of dance. They will also successfully recruit new members of the team because as coaches and high level skaters, they are such prominent members of the skating community in Northern California. Regardless of any additions that the other championship-qualifying teams will make, I am optimistic that the team will take advantage of opportunities to make it to Nationals and finally make it to the podium.

The other thing? If Laney Diggs takes a fifth year or goes to graduate school here in Berkeley, you can turn that frown upside down and ignore everything I just said for at least another year.

What did the bearpaw say to the face? Slap.

What’d the golden bearpaw say to the face? Slap.


Cal Figure Skating, Nationals Preview

March 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

It’s been about a year since my last participation in an intercollegiate competition. Since then,

  • LSAC administered four LSATS in June 2012, October 2012, December 2012, and February 2013
  • Kina Grannis makes another visit in San Francisco to visit her family and sing
  • Entry-level jobs, entry-level jobs everywhere. But it’s a shame that I didn’t have 4-5 years of experience.
  • I picked up some fundamentals of figure skating
  • I found out George Washington Law and UC Hastings Law do guided tours. UC Berkeley/Boalt Hall doesn’t. ūüė•
  • UCLA, not Colorado State or New Mexico, joins Cal and Denver as Pacific representatives at Nationals

But this post isn’t really about me. Rather, it’s about why Cal Figure Skating is in excellent position to overtake Boston University and University of Delaware Figure Skating Clubs and become one of the top 3 intercollegiate teams in the nation. Now’s the time to jump on the bandwagon.

I can tell you're as excited about this as I am.

I can tell you’re as excited about this as I am.


  • Senior ladies¬†Katrina Phan¬†(skated in only one regional)
  • Junior ladies¬†Hannah Benet¬†(skated in only one regional)
  • Novice ladies¬†Tanya Shaby¬†(graduation)
  • Preliminary ladies¬†Sarah Powell¬†(graduation)
  • Preliminary men’s¬†Darren Lee¬†(graduation)

Subtract nine points (Tanya’s 3rd place finish in novice free and 1st place finish in novice short, Tanya’s contributions to the team’s 1st place finish in high team maneuvers, Darren’s 3rd place finish in men’s preliminary) from the 2012 Cal team that finished 4th in the nation with 38 points overall.


  • Senior men’s/ice dancer/sophomore Sean Sunyoto (missed 2011-2012 collegiate season due to injured shoulder)
  • Junior men’s/freshman Matej Silecky
  • Senior men’s/freshman Jay Yostanto (missed 2012-13 season due to Junior Grand Prix assignments)
  • Junior ladies/senior Marissa Minovitz (missed 2nd half of 2011-2012 season studying abroad)
  • Junior ladies/preliminary ice dancer Gina DeNatale
  • Senior ladies ice dancer Teressa Vellrath
  • Senior ladies ice dancer/freshman¬†Kelsey Chan
  • Senior ladies/sophomore Sravani Kondapavulur
  • Juvenile ladies/freshman Amy Nguyen

Returning skaters are intermediate ladies/sophomore Janelle Unger, senior ladies/preliminary ice dancer/junior Laney Diggs, senior ladies/preliminary ice dancer/sophomore Michelle Hong, and junior ice dancer Samira Damavandi. Returning coach is Cal FSC alumnus Dani Schraner.

Yeah, buddy.

Yeah, buddy.

So what?

The most noticeable difference is that this team has become top-heavy. No preliminary free, pre-juvenile free, or novice free skaters. ¬†The only non-junior, non-senior skaters are intermediate ladies¬†Janelle Unger and juvenile ladies¬†Amy Nguyen. We’re leaving potential points on the table.


I’m not sure I’d ever believe Cheryl but I’m willing to hear her out.

The team is well-rounded in other ways:

We have ice dancers

Aside from five skaters signing up for dance events, there was only one true ice dancer on the team, Samira Damavandi (senior). This year, the ice dancing portion of the team grew with the additions of Teressa Vellrath (Gold Solo and International Solo), Kelsey Chan, Sean Sunyoto (junior, senior), and Gina DeNatale (preliminary, pre-juvenile). Ice dance events are packed at each level, allowing each skater to earn points, which can increase significantly the number of points the team gets overall. As baseball analyst Tim McCarver always says, the more points you score, the more likely it is you’re going to win.

Others have a different kind of ice dancing in mind.

Others have a different kind of ice dancing in mind.

More dudes

For the past two seasons, the team’s roster contained one guy. In 2010-2011, it was Cal Figure Skating alumnus¬†Mark Bernardo¬†who would represent the Cal men in regional competitions and then, in Michigan for Intercollegiate Nationals. In 2011-2012, it was¬†Darren Lee taking the torch from Mark to Colorado competitions, including Intercollegiate Nationals in Colorado Springs. This year, it’s junior skater¬†Matej Silecky and senior skater¬†Sean Sunyoto¬†representing the men’s side of the team in Hanover, NH. They’ll expand the number of skaters in each event, allowing each junior and senior skater from all schools to potentially earn more points. Side note, ¬†if dudes are given their own locker room, does it mean they’re banned from the ones for everyone else? No rush, Jacki Smith, Dartmouth competition chair.

More junior and senior level skaters

The team will use up four entries when Marissa Minovitz and Gina DeNatale skate the junior championship free skate and junior short programs. Use up six entries putting your three best senior skaters in the short program. Later, they will put two of them in the regular senior free skate and the other two in the senior championship free skate. Kelsey Chan, Sravani Kondapavulur, Laney Diggs, and Michelle Hong are your senior skaters. Top 5 finishers in the championship free skate events get two extra points on top of the points they get for their placement.

At this point, the Golden Bears will employ Sravani, Sean, Matej, Laney, Michelle, and Teressa to handle the jumps, spins, and footwork in high team maneuvers.

I can see you getting super excited about this.

I can see you getting super excited about this.

The Thing That Stays the Same

It’s never about winning the Pacific region, though it helps. It’s about doing well at all the regional competitions, allowing the team to qualify for the championships. Berkeley likes to live dangerous though, bringing lots of people to the first competition, bringing almost no one to the second competition, then bringing everyone who didn’t go to the second competition to the last one. Studying for midterms, taking midterms, save money on an extra flight and hotel stay, I get it. This just leaves little room for error if the Golden Bears want to be in the top 3 out West. Last year, it was Berkeley making it to Nationals at the expense of a UCLA team. This year, US Figure Skating had to break a tie between Berkeley, UCLA, and New Mexico, detailed here. New Mexico Figure Skating nearly made it in their first year of existence. But if they want to keep Berkeley out of it next time, they have to do better in all competitions. If you don’t take care of business, an experienced and large team like Berkeley will steal your spot in Nationals every single time.


Super excited!


thefigureskatinglawyer goes way, WAY inside Golden Bear Skate 2012

September 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Clancy Pendergast’s men could not contain Braxton Miller and the Ohio State Buckeyes and Stanford did dirty things to University of Southern California’s offensive line. But in the end, my focus was on Cal Figure Skating this weekend.

Meghan Markle, not impressed with your lack of knowledge about Cal’s skating team.

The Golden Bears overcame the early registration date, broken skates, following the wrong beat in dance, doing wrong things in dance and overall goofiness to win this year’s edition of the Golden Bear Skate.¬†UC Berkeley jumps to an early points lead in the regionals standing with three points, with Nationals-hopeful UCLA in second with two points and University of New Mexico, in its first year existence in third with one.

Someone give this kid a shovel because he diggs this victory.

Early drama followed the teams that say “bears” differently as the competition opened up with high and intermediate low team maneuvers. Rumor has it that the screws holding the blade to junior skater¬†Matej Silecky‘s boot¬†got loose, making it really hard to land the triple/double-double lutz combination, one of the six required elements in high team. Overall, the judges liked the UCLA team’s performance better, awarding them first place. After a break in which Skate St. Moritz, the local competition took over both sides of the rink, intermediate team maneuvers followed. The Bears (Janelle Unger, Kathryn Poniatowski, Amy Nguyen)¬†score a victory via the disqualification of the Bruins team (Sarah Palaich, Alejandra Acosta, Therese Vesagas)¬†for using a skater who has tested too high.

Oh shit.

The score within the competition so far: UC Berkeley 3, UCLA 3. Including warm-ups, 5 hours down, 10 to go.


The early registration deadline date affected many teams, including the Golden Bears. Some skaters did not have their long programs ready or the dance patterns entirely practiced but the team enjoyed their contributions regardless as the Golden Bears have time to fine-tune things before the Tiger Challenge on Oct. 27th.

For UCLA, those taking the final summer session courses have a week left to enjoy their summer before their fall quarter begins. The make-up of the team looked drastically different without notable junior skater Emily Chan and senior skater Mericien Venzon. Senior skater Evan Bender, senior skater Coral Chou, senior skater/ice dancer Amanda Sunyoto (older sibling of Cal sophomore Sean Sunyoto), graduate student Sarah Palaich, stalwart Joey Millet took on the unenviable task of going up against a really large Cal Figure Skating team.

Skaters from the University of Denver Pioneers and Colorado State Rams did not make the trip out to see the California girls (and Sean and Matej), making the upcoming Tiger Challenge and Pioneer Open (February 24th) a much more interesting logjam for points to qualify for Nationals in New Hampshire. Rylie Pepich, Maddie Moyer, Lena Nguyen, Karen Yamasaki, Lauren Montgomery, Cal FSC will see you ladies soon.

Three skaters from the University of New Mexico Figure Skating Club drove 18 hours since Friday morning out from Albuquerque to Oakland Ice. Impressive. Look for them to make the easier 6-hour drive to Colorado Springs and Denver for the next two competitions.


thefigureskatinglawyer got around to Oakland Ice shortly before the warm-up to the juniors ladies short program, as Cal skaters Gina DeNatale and Marissa Minovitz started off the individual events of the competition. DeNatale’s clean (from my point of view) skate was ultimately bested by Minovitz’s skate to an instrumental of The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” Oh well, five points for Cal. Junior men’s short program followed the ladies. Silecky had his skates fixed between the high team maneuvers and his event, fell on his triple axel attempt but landed a triple flip. Despite a rocky start to his intercollegiate debut, it was a great skate for him as he becomes a part of the future in Cal Figure Skating. Millet had trouble with a couple of the jumps but placed ahead of Silecky, while his teammate Bender took first with a cleaner routine.

The senior ladies short showcased skaters¬†Laney Diggs,¬†Sravani Kondapavulur (Yiruma’s “A River Flows In You”), Katrina Phan and UCLA’s¬†Chou¬†and¬†Sunyoto. Rounding out the group of six was St. Moritz coach/member and skater Samantha Lew of Ohlone College. The standings: 1) Laney, 2) Sravani, 3) Coral, 4) Amanda, 5) Samantha, 6) Katrina. Cal receives nine points, five for Diggs’ first place finish and four for Kondapavulur’s second place result.

Memory’s a little hazy but no Cal skater participated in men’s preliminary freeskate. Congrats to Cal’s¬†Janelle Unger for placing first in the ladies intermediate short program.

After five events, Golden Bears, 20. Bruins, 13. Lobos, 1. Ohlone College, 1.


Sean Sunyoto, sorry you missed your SLC mock Chemistry 3B midterm, buddy. If it makes you feel any better. You won junior and senior solo dances. I don’t think your sister will tell you how any of the introductions to the dance events will go anymore, bro.¬†Samira Damavandi, always a kick-ass senior ice dancer¬†placed third after the Kilian and Blues patterns and looks to improve on those standings in the next competitions.

Hannah Benet, strong showing in the preliminary solo dance event, despite an inadvertent chasse somewhere in there. You rocked.

Teressa Vellrath, thefigureskatinglawyer had no idea how good of an ice dancer you are. Coached by ice dancer and Salt Lake Olympian Beata Handra, Vellrath destroyed the Gold solo dance patterns, took about a 20 minute breather as seniors took the ice and had enough energy left to destroy the International solo dance patterns. Congratulations to her on great performances and best of luck to her when the challenge of high altitude is factored into the next competitions.


Just like that, thefigureskatinglawyer had to leave the rink to reach his great-grandmother’s 98th birthday dinner later that evening. Swag lady, that she is. He missed the intermediate, junior, senior ladies freeskates, as well as the junior men’s, junior ladies’ and senior ladies’ championship freeskates. Rumor has it that Michelle Hong, Alex Lin,¬†Laney, Sravani, Matej and Marissa all did well.

John Harbaugh is digg-ing all of it. Not sure about Jim Schwartz though.

Felt good to come out and support Cal Figure Skating. If you didn’t come down to Oakland Ice today, you missed out on some good skating. Y U NO COME OUT WHEN YOU SAY YOU WANT TO WATCH FIGURE SKATING?!


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