If you asked anyone at the beginning of this season what the ladies' event at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships is going to be like, most would've said it would be another showdown between Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner. But four months into the season, this competition has completely lost all sense of predictability. Gold hasn't been herself all season, Wagner has been up and down, and a whole host of other skaters - I count potentially six or seven others - have the opportunity to make the podium. So will it be Gold or Wagner continuing their monopoly of the U.S. title? Or will another skater get the surprise win?
2017 U.S. Championships Predictions
Official hashtag: #USChamps17
GOLD Ashley Wagner - Between her and Gold, they have won the past five U.S. titles. And for that to not happen again this week, it will take a couple of subpar performances. That said, it is exactly what we saw from Wagner at Cup of China, where she was hammered for underrotated jumps and managed a sixth-place finish, her worst Grand Prix finish ever. But if there's anything we know about Wagner, it's that she takes these kinds of lessons and turns them in to vengeance. It will definitely be interesting to see what she can deliver in Kansas City this week, and it can certainly be a stepping stone for her as she looks to make the World team again and get back onto the World podium.
SILVER Gracie Gold - Will we finally see the resurgence of Gold, the reigning national champion? It's all about confidence for her here - and frankly, she could be anywhere from first to tenth depending on which Gracie Gold shows up this week. But there was something about the spark in her voice during her teleconference that offers optimism. She made the bold move to train with her old coach, Alex Ouriashev, for a few weeks to regain her motivation and her work on her jumps. And a jolt like that was something that she sorely needed as she's been trying to get out of the funk that she's been in since Worlds. We'll know more in a few days with practices, but signs are pointing up for the two-time champ.
BRONZE Mirai Nagasu - All hail second-half-of-season Nagasu. She has shown in the past that she knows how to bring her best skating to Nationals. One of the intriguing things about her path this year is the possible inclusion of the triple axel in her programs. She's hit clean ones in practice, and if she hits it here, she will only be the third American woman to ever land it in competition - it has the potential to be quite a differentiator for her. That said, she doesn't need a triple axel to get on the podium - her two programs this season are two of the best of her career, and she can rely on them to make the case for her without the axel. But this is a long game play, and putting that element out may be most important.
4. Mariah Bell - So, which Mariah Bell will we see next week? The one who blew everyone away with a silver at Skate America in October or the one who should have one but finished off the podium at Tallinn Trophy in November? She needs to deliver a strong short program here to put herself in contention. She's got all the goods to grab one of the three Worlds spots, but can she keep her jumps together to make that happen?
5. Amber Glenn - Totally a dark horse pick and definitely based on one data point. Glenn, the junior champ from three years ago, has always impressed with her big jumps but rarely put it together in competition. But Golden Spin in December was a revelation - and she finally found a way to deliver two solid performances, beating a despondent Gold in the process. If she finds those jumps again this week, it could very much be a springboard to a brilliant finish in Kansas City. She's a wildcard for the podium.
6. Caroline Zhang - Five of the last six times she was at Nationals, the former U.S. bronze medalist has finished outside of the top 10. The sole exception was a resurgent 2012, when she was fourth. But she hasn't built on that success since. Zhang comes into this competition, though, with a different fire than we've seen in the past, motivated after hip surgery took her completely out of last season. She seems to have really buckled down to train, and it showed at Pacific Coast Sectionals, where she hit a clean free skate that included a clean triple loop-triple loop in the second half of the program. Her components will likely keep her from being super competitive for the podium, but she knows how to perform, and this audience may be the catalyst she needs to lift her back into the spotlight.
7. Angela Wang - Wang's season has been up and down, with a leg injury that kept her out of both international assignments. But she had a strong return at Sectionals, where she won and beat a strong Zhang. Her story so far has been one of talent unfulfilled, and given two clean programs, she could actually figure into the top five here.
8. Karen Chen - Bronze medalist two years ago, Chen has yet to find the form that took her to podium. But this season has been the closest she's been, with moments of brilliance in both of her Grand Prix events. If the consistency is there, she's got the full package for a return to the podium.
9. Courtney Hicks - After grabbing a bronze at Rostelecom Cup, Hicks was unable to repeat it at Cup of China, where she finished ninth. Like many of her competitors, it's been an up and down season for her. But also like her competitors, she's got a lot of upside if she can put down two solid programs.
10. Bradie Tennell - Sixth here last year, Tennell took her first senior international medal at Tallinn Trophy earlier in the season, defeating Bell in the process. But she comes in as a bit of an unknown, as she's only had that one competition this season.