Cranberry Cup Recap: Tired Legs and Big Smiles at the 23/24 International Season-Opener for Singles

Women’s medalists at Cranberry Cup, L-R: Ava Ziegler (silver), Kaiya Ruiter (bronze) and Lindsay Thorngren (gold).

In its third year as an international competition, the 2023 Cranberry Cup welcomed a strong field in the Men’s and Women’s events at the junior and senior level. I was in attendance for the senior events on August 12 and 13th.

The Tenley Albright Performance Center is a beautiful arena at the Skating Club of Boston’s 3-rink facility in Norwood, Massachussets. The venue hosted the 2022 Skate America Grand Prix, and the club always does a great job putting on events!

Unfortunately, the event was not live-streamed. This remains an issue with events held in the US, reportedly due to the settlement of a lawsuit over music copyright during the last Olympics.

Cranberry Cup was held concurrently with the Cranberry Open, a well-attending club competition that attracts skaters from all over the Northeast. That helped to ensure that there was a small live audience cheering for the athletes, especially hometown skaters Jimmy Ma and Will Annis, and perpetual fan favorite Donovan Carrillo of Mexcio.

Cranberry Cup was the season-opener for a number of skaters headed to the Grand Prix and Junior Grand Prix and Challenger Series, as well as an opportunity for skaters to earn world standing points and the technical minimum scores required for ISU Championships.

Cranberry Cup International Results

🥇 Lindsay Thorngren (USA)
🥈 Ava Ziegler (USA)
🥉 Kaiya Ruiter (Canada)
See Full Results

🥇 Mark Gorodnitsky (Israel)
🥈 Wesley Chiu (Canada)
🥉 Jimmy Ma (USA)
See Full Results

Cranberry Cup: Women’s Results

Lindsay Thorngren during her winning Free Skate to “Twilight”

The Women’s event was won by the US’ Lindsay Thorngren. In her second senior season, Lindsay looks sophisticated and elegant in both her new programs. She shared, “I really like my programs this year. I’m excited to show them!”

The short is to “Windmills of My Mind”, choreographed by Sandra Bezic. Lindsay looked strong, with her only mistake being an under-rotation on the second jump in her triple flip-triple toe combination. The score of 66.43 put her in second place. She came back very strong in her free skate to the Twilight soundtrack, choreographed by Shae Lynn Bourne, scoring 132.73. She landed seven triples, including a triple lutz-triple loop combination (although the loop was under-rotated).

The highlight of the program was the choreographic sequence, which showed off Lindsay’s flexibility with innovative spirals and transitions. “I’m really happy with how I skated, and I can’t wait for the rest of the season,” Lindsay commented. “I really want to improve from last season and show my best.” She’ll be heading next to the Autumn Classic Challenger Series event in Montreal, and to Grand Prix events in Canada and Japan.

Ava Ziegler in her winning short program

The US still has an open host spot at Skate America, and several of the top contenders were here. Ava Ziegler, who won the short program, and placed second in the free skate, and second overall, made a strong case for herself. The 16-year-old debuted with a splash last season, earning a 4th-place finish at Skate Canada, and she narrowly missed qualifying for a Grand Prix this season.

At Cranberry Cup, Ava scored 68.12 in the short program, with a jazzy and upbeat program. A highlight was the shoulder shimmy into layback Ina Bauer! “There are small things that I can improve,” said Ava. “But it’s the beginning of the season and I’m really happy with what I put out there.” I was especially impressed that she skated clean after falling twice on her triple flip while waiting to start. Ava wasn’t worried, though: “I’m kind of a baby deer. I know if I make silly little mistakes, I’ll be fine. It’s normal for me – I’ll trip on the boards, I’ll trip doing crossovers. I just shake it off.”

Unfortunately, Ava wasn’t able to replicate the success in the Free Skate. Falls on her opening triple flip-triple toe combination, and again on a triple lutz held Ava to a score of 115.67. The music (Christina Aguilera’s “Liberation”) is a good match for Ava’s big, emotive, skating, and she persisted in her performance despite the mistakes. Her next competition will be the Lombardia Trophy Challenger event in Bergamo, Italy in September. A full interview with Ava will be coming out soon.

Kaiya Ruiter and coach Scott Davis after the short program

Bronze went to Canadian Kaiya Ruiter. The national silver medalist was 10th at last year’s Junior Worlds. She earned 56.19 on her short program to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (repeated from last season). The loop in her opening triple lutz-triple loop combination was two-footed and under-rotated, and with mostly level three steps and spins, she is still chasing a short program minimum technical score for the World Championships. Kaiya shared “It was my first time trying the lutz-loop in competition and it was really great to have that experience under my belt. It’s also my first time competing in the States, and it’s been the most wonderful experience!”

Unfortunately, edge calls and under rotations also plagued Kaiya’s free skate, which earned a 108.24 score. She is also reusing her music from last season, “Inspiration” by Florian Christl. Although she placed 5th in each segment, the volatility of the field meant that Kaiya achieved 3rd overall. Kaiya competes next at Autumn Classic, and will be debuting on the Grand Prix at Skate Canada International in October. “I’m really looking forward to that,” Kaiya said. “I’m focused on getting everything clean, and working on spins, and doing everything to make that a great experience!”

Elyce Lin-Gracey during her Free Skate

Elyce Lin-Gracey took fourth place overall, and achieved her senior technical minimums here. She earned 58.70 for a clean short program to “Someone Like You” from Jekyll and Hyde, which put her in 3rd. Her Free Skate, to “Not About Angels” by Birdy, started rough with two falls, a step out, and a pop on the first four jumping passes. She fought back for the final sections, and scored 103.88. Hopefully, she can build on that experience of resilience as she heads into her Junior Grand Prix assignment in Turkey.

Americans Sonja Hilmer (5th) and Clare Seo (7th) were also hoping for a strong showing here to boost their quest for international assignments. Both showed flashes of brilliance here, but struggled in one program or the other. Clare had come out ahead in their previous head-to-head match-up at the Glacier Falls domestic competition in July.

Sonja with coach Tammy Gambil after the Free Skate

Sonja Hilmer has been making a name for herself with self-choreographed programs and an innovative triple salchow-(clockwise) double salchow combination that takes advantage of her ability to rotate in both directions. While she doesn’t have the technical content of some of her competitors (neither program included a triple-triple), her programs to The Matrix and the Avatar: The Last Airbender soundtrack are vehicles to showcase her unique style. “I’m good at pulling the story out of things that I’m familiar with, and I love Avatar, so it was a blast putting this program together,” said Sonja.

She actually had one of the cleanest Free Skates of the event, scoring 112.18 and she was happy with her competition. “It always feels so good coming off the ice knowing I put out a good performance and connecting with everyone watching.” Hopefully, we’ll see more of Sonja at international competitions later in the season!

Clare Seo during her graceful short program.

Clare Seo is reusing her ’22-23 short program to Simple Gifts, which suits her lyrical skating style. “I chose it for the Peggy Fleming trophy last year, and was just going to use it for that [artistic] competition, but the judges and I really liked it, so we decided to use it for competitions.” Her jumps were strong, but a freak fall on her final spin cost her important points and prevented her from earning the minimum technical score for Worlds.

Clare’s Free Skate is a tango, which showcases another side of her skating. Her grit was impressive – after a hard fall on a triple lutz, where she collided into the boards, she landed her next jumping pass, a triple flip-double axel sequence. Although the falls put her behind the demanding music, she fought hard for the levels in her final spin, and earned 91.99 for the program. It wasn’t the skate she wanted, but it’s the kind of experience that is better to have now than later in the season. Clare shared that her goals are to “skate with confidence, get more consistent on my triple-triple combination, and enjoy my season.”

Fiona Bombardier has a fun and sunny short program to “Havana”.

Fiona Bombardier made her senior international debut, placing 8th overall. The bronze medalist at last season’s Canadian Nationals, Fiona suffered a concussion at the end of the season that prevented her from attending the Coupe du Printemps, and a potential assignment to the World Team Trophy. She was looking to earn the technical minimums here to qualify to a future ISU championship, and she did hit the mark for the Four Continents minimums, earning 48.40 and 98.39. She has a lot of talent, but did not yet look fully trained and confident in competing these programs. “I was a little nervous and stiff, but I’ll keep training these programs and hopefully come out better next time.” She picked the music for her new short program to “Havana” – which she described as “a dance party” and is reusing her “Allegría” free skate from last year.

Shout-outs also go to Sarah Everhardt (6th), who will be heading to the Junior Grand Prix this year and who looked very polished and prepared in practices, with beautiful height on her jumps, and to Lindsay Wang, who had to withdraw in the middle of short program skate after a very hard fall. It’s always tough to see a skater get hurt, and I’m glad she recently posted she is doing better!

Cranberry Cup: Men’s Recap

In the Men’s event at Cranberry Cup, Israel’s Mark Gorodnitsky repeated his victory from last season. He noted that the field was tougher this year, though, and Mark had to fend off strong performances from Canada’s Wesley Chiu and the US’ Jimmy Ma. These skaters will meet again at the Autumn Classic International in Montreal next month.

Mark Gorodnitsky smiles during a lighter moment in his free skate

Mark is building on a successful second half of the 2022-23 season, where he achieved personal best scores and placements at Europeans and Worlds. He said that this season, “I want to keep up with the clean skates. I want to be very consistent. From the free program at Europeans, I started to train very hard, very different, and listen to my coach instead of do everything myself.”

He looked better prepared than many of the men, whom it was clear simply hadn’t put in the mileage doing run-throughs on their free skates (one man, who will remain anonymous, admitted this competition was only the third time he’d ever run through his free skate!) Mark had two clean programs, and although he did not attempt any quads, he earned 76.29 in the short program, and 154.70 in the free, enough for first overall. His free skate, to “Shape of Lies” by Eternal Eclipse, was choreographed by his coach Andrei Berezintsev. “It’s kind of a roller coaster, it starts emotional, angry, and then calms down, and then at the end it just explodes. [Andrei] is more qualified to explain the story but over the season I’ll probably get more invested and create my own.” Mark’s next competition will be Autumn Classic, followed by the Skate Canada Grand Prix.

Wesley Chiu with coach Keegan Murphy after his short program

Wesley Chiu was excited to share his new short program to the soundtrack to the 90’s Romeo and Juliet. “I think it’s a different version than people have done before…My choreographer found that Sam Smith had released a new version of ‘Kissing You’. I really liked it the first time I heard it and it kind of challenges me with the different types of movements.” He had a tough landing on his opening quad toe and only was able to add a single toe to the combination. That left him in 5th place with a score of 72.33.

However, he fought back with a clean free skate, including a beautiful quad salchow, and won the segment, scoring 158.98 and earning the silver medal. The Free Skate music comes from the Kill Bill soundtrack, including a section to “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. Wesley shared that he worked hard over the summer, “I’ve been trying to add new elements, to perfect the ones I have.” While he didn’t include his new quad lutz in the free skate, the goal is to add it later in the season. Wesley will also be heading to Autumn Classic and Skate Canada International this fall.

Jimmy Ma’s free skate choreographic sequence is fierce!

Jimmy Ma won the short program, and placed third in the free skate, earning him a bronze medal. He shared that entering the competition was a last-minute decision, but he wanted to test how he was doing at this point ahead of the season. His short is a lighthearted and charismatic program to the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack, which he said is pushing him outside his comfort zone. A beautiful quad toe-triple toe and high PCS earned him 83.05.

In the free skate, he started strong with two quad toes, but lost energy for his jumps in the second half, falling on a triple axel and scoring 139.44. The highlight of the program is his choreographic sequence, which is reminiscent of the straight-line step sequences of the mid-2000s. The techno hip-hop remix of “Lacrimosa” is a classic Jimmy Ma show-stopper, and will be lots of fun for audiences this season. The home crowd (Jimmy trains in Boston) certainly loved it! Jimmy will be heading to Autumn Classic before competing at the Grand Prix in China. A full interview with Jimmy will be coming soon.

Will Annis pushed through a tough free skate with the support of his home-town crowd.

Americans Liam Kapeikis (6th) and Will Annis (9th) had strong short programs and very tough free skates. Liam was third after the short program, and while he struggled in his free skate, the program, to a Jerry Douglas cover of “The Boxer” suits him well. I will look forward to seeing the program grow over the season, including at his Grand Prix in Canada. Will Annis fell four times in his free skate to “Your Song” from Moulin Rouge. They were the kind of falls that you see when skaters have tired legs, and jumps that likely would have been okay later in the season when skaters are more trained. This was nonetheless an important marker for Will as he returns from injury and tries to rejoin the conversation for American men.

Lucas Broussard’s free skate has beautiful details

This was the senior international debut for Lucas Broussard (14th), and not the result he was hoping for. The 2022 Junior Grand Prix silver medalist, Lucas has decided to mainly compete senior this season, though he is aiming to return to Junior Worlds. The technical content did not go his way – a fall on a quad toe attempt, and a popped axel put him 13th after the short program, and his free skate was also littered with jump trouble. “I’m pretty disappointed because I know I can do more, but that’s the sport,” Lucas said after the free skate.

Despite the errors, Lucas does have the ability to keep the artistic spirit of a program alive through a tough skate, and his programs have a lot of potential. His free skate to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has many beautiful touches in the choreography. I especially appreciated his short program to REM’s “Everybody Hurts”, and the message of resilience was extra relevant as Lucas fought his way back to a successful final combination jump. Lucas’ next competition will be the Nebelhorn Trophy Challenger event in Germany, before he heads to the Grand Prix in China. An interview with Lucas will be coming soon.

Donovan Carrillo with coach Jonathan Mills after his Free Skate

Donovan Carrillo of Mexico placed fifth in his first competition with his new coaching team, and he said he is happy with his training environment in Toronto. “I’m in a new chapter of life, and I’m enjoying skating a lot…I was very unstable with my skating due to the injury in my right ankle. Now that I’ve finally had surgery and doing the physio, I feel more ready and prepared. I’m really happy to start everything from zero and have this opportunity to keep skating.”

His short program is a crowd-pleasing program to Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” and “Four Minutes”. It’s the kind of high-energy program where Donovan excels, and he earned his short program minimums for Worlds, scoring 68.68. Unfortunately, he was just short of the minimum for the free skate, where he scored 128.84. The free skate music starts sultry with “Besame Mucho” and then heats up with a remix of “Cuba”. Donovan will also be heading to Autumn Classic next month.

Bruce Waddell during his Free Skate

This was also an important competition for Canadian Aleksa Rakic, who placed fourth. His quad toe is looking much more consistent, and he achieved his world minimums at this competition. I want to give free skate shout-outs to Canadians Bruce Waddell (12th), who used his ice dancer deep edges for a beautiful performance to Moonlight Sonata (his change-edge spread eagle got big applause) and Gabriel Blumenthal (10th), who had a lovely balletic performance to Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No 3.

This was a great way to open the international season for the singles disciplines, and it will be exciting to follow many of these skaters into their next assignments.

Thank you again to the Cranberry Cup organizers, and all the skaters who spoke with me about their programs and their hopes for the season!

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