Alex Shaughnessy and Jimmy Morgan tried to steal a private moment before their free skate Saturday at the US Figure Skating Championships. But when the Boston-based pair embraced near the boards and whispered a few words to each other, the hometown crowd at TD Garden let out a soft, but audible “awwww.” In that moment, Morgan told Shaughnessy, “It’s just you and me out there. We’ve got this. Let’s do it like we do in practice.”
While the pair tried to pretend the performance would be like any other runthrough at the Skating Club of Boston, it was clear from the start that it was not. The audience had a strong rooting interest, cheering wildly with every well-executed element and groaning when both skaters fell on early side-by-side triple salchows. Still, despite some unfortunate errors in a romantic routine performed to music from the French film “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” Shaughnessy and Morgan were delighted with their debut performances at senior nationals.
“We had a couple of mistakes, but it’s all a learning experience,” said Shaughnessy, 21, who grew up in Duxbury. “And we’ve learned so much this week. This is definitely our first step out on senior championship ice. We just wanted to make a splash. We wanted to tell everyone, ‘We’re here. We’re going to be here. So, pay attention.’ ”
Added Morgan: “There’s a lot to take away from this competition going into next year and the years after that.”
For Shaughnessy and Morgan, the competition is not about a Sochi Olympic berth, but potentially a first step toward the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea. Considered a couple on the rise with special on-ice chemistry, Shaughnessy and Morgan viewed nationals as an opportunity to gain valuable experience and provide an introduction to their style on the country’s biggest figure skating stage. The pair knows its technical ability and artistry will become stronger, bigger and better in the future.
“We wanted to set the pace as to what kind of skaters we are, what we like to skate to, what our connection is,” said Morgan, 22, who’s from Windham, N.H. “We wanted to set ourselves up as a team that can perform well.”
Shaughnessy and Morgan were not concerned with their final placement — last in a 12-pair field with a combined score of 140.73 for the short program and free skate. They proudly noted that their score was more than 20 points higher than their previous best total.
Another local couple also based at the Skating Club of Boston, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, took the national pairs title with a total of 205.71. Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff, who also train at the Skating Club of Boston, performed a disappointing free skate and placed eighth with a score of 170.73.
Shaughnessy and Morgan were so excited to compete at nationals before friends and family that the biggest challenge of the week proved the wait to take the ice, especially with a day off between the short program Thursday and the free skate Saturday.
“We were saying all day, ‘Let’s just do it,’ ” said Morgan, who balances skating with his studies at Boston University. “We were up at 6.”
Added Shaughnessy, who’s a Northeastern student: “I was dying to do it. I was like, ‘Can we skate now?’ Even at the beginning of this week, Monday we had a practice day and we had official practice on Tuesday and I’m like, ‘I’m ready to do my short and my long tomorrow. I’m ready to do it.’ ”
To try and make the hometown nationals feel like any other nationals, Shaughnessy and Morgan spent the week in a local hotel with other competitors. And after the skaters finished their long program and collected a large haul of stuffed animals, including a big, red lobster, they stayed to watched the rest of the competition. They took mental notes on dance lifts they might like to try, transitions that they could use, and music choice. Watching live, they also could learn what works emotionally with a large crowd.
“Even though we are competing against all these senior pairs, we also look up to a lot of them,” said Shaughnessy. “We love to see the way that they practice and warm up and the way they do their programs. And the way that they handle the stress, too. So, we just love to take away from what they show us.”
Added Morgan: “Seeing it on a different pair team really helps us solidify what we like to do and what we might not like to do and we go from there.”