Not unlike the men, the pairs at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships this week have been hurt by some attrition as a result of injuries. Reigning silver medalists Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier and Gretchen Donlan/Nathan Bartholomay, seventh last year, are not in St. Paul this week. Their absence makes the title defense for Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim just a tad easier. But of course, the keywords there are "just a tad." Here's a look at the pairs.
2016 US Nationals: Rocker Predictions
GOLD Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim - The defending champions have certainly established themselves as the most successful U.S. pair in about a decade. Their 7th at Worlds last year was the best American showing since 2011, and their qualification for the Grand Prix Final was the first by an American pair since 2007. They have been hitting career-high component scores this season so far, bolstered by the big leaps they've made in the past couple of seasons. And they come in as the clear favorites. What will be interesting to see is if they have recovered from the poor showing they had at the Grand Prix Final just over a month ago. But barring a set of poor performances, they should be getting that second title this week.
SILVER Tarah Kayne/Daniel O'Shea - Scimeca/Knierim's chief rivals are the reigning bronze medalists, who themselves have made strides in their skating since last season. Even had Denney?Frazier been here, Kayne/O'Shea would still have been strong contenders for one of the two Worlds spots. And they have the ability to win this thing outright, especially if the favorites show the vulnerabilities they did at the Final. The side-by-sides are key for them to put up a challenge, and don't forget that they've been attempting that quad sal this season. Will they try it again in St. Paul? One more thing - be prepared for a new short program, they are debuting it this week.
BRONZE Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran - But you know who is bubbling under? Castelli/Tran - and they have some of the smoothest skating in the field. There's such an ease to how they omve across the ice, and you really feel like they have become better skaters since they paired up with each other. Their biggest impediment this week will be that second throw in the free skate. Their lutz hasn't materialized, so they've gone to the safer throw double axel. And since their hardest throw now is a triple sal, they will need every bit of their side-by-sides to be clean to put themselves in contention for the World team. But they need to be clean, which is a tall order.
4. Madeline Aaron/Max Settlage - Injury took them out of their sole Grand Prix this season, but they came back a few weeks later to take fifth at Tallinn Trophy. Their fourth-place debut last year at Nationals was the result of a free skate that completely won over the crowd, vaulting them from seventh. They will be outside shots for top three this week.
5. Jessica Calalang/Zack Sidhu - Fifth at Nationals last year, Calalang/Sidhu have had a decent international season, finishing fourth at Ice Challenge and seventh at NHK Trophy. They are solid top five material this week but won't quite have the goods to challenge for the podium.