Skating on the national stage

Talk about landing on your feet. Twice, and in the most unexpected ways.

Matthew Scoralle's love for all-things ice began a few years back when the Fountain Valley resident wanted to play hockey. To get a feel for the game, and the ground beneath his skates, the now-13-year-old took up figure skating, he said, to "get on my feet."

"It was all about trying to learn how to balance myself while maneuvering on skates," he said. "It was a little hard at first, but then I got comfortable with it. After a while it became a lot of fun.

"I never went into roller hockey. I stuck with figure skating and I'm glad I did. Being out there on the ice is a good time."

The local youngster has gone from "good time," to big time.

Scoralle traveled Wednesday to Salt Lake City to compete at the 2010 U.S. Junior National Figure Skating Championships. He will compete in pairs skating with partner Hadley Piper of Newport Beach. The two are among the top 19 pairs in the country to qualify for the event.

Scoralle and Piper will compete in the Juvenile division. The duo first skates Friday.

The Junior National competition runs through Saturday.

"To qualify for Junior Nationals is an incredible feeling," Scoralle said. "It's the first time for both of us, and it's sort of unexpected."

Scoralle said he and Piper, also 13, teamed up as skating partners 1 1/2 years ago after the two had been singles skaters.

"I always wanted to do pairs skating and Hadley went to the same rink as I did," he said. "That's how we met and we teamed up, and it's been great. Hadley's a great skater and has clean footwork. I'd say as a team, we're clean skaters. We've put in a lot of work and long hours."

Scoralle said he began skating at Skate Zone in Huntington Beach before the rink closed down, then moved on to skate in Westminster before that rink, too, closed. Since then, he's been training at Glacial Garden Skating Arena in Lakewood, where he and Piper train for up to three hours a day, five-to-six days per week.

"When I first got into figure skating, I was about 7 or 8, but never really got seriously into competing until about a year and a half ago," he said. "I started with taking classes once a week and now train quite a bit."

Scoralle, who is home-schooled, has really grown into the sport in such a short time. But last year, he began to grow out of it and had to relearn his steps all over again.

"I grew seven inches over the past year," said the now 5-foot-9 1/2-inch athlete who said he has also conquered his most recent challenge, the axel jump.

He said he is landing his axel, a jump from an outside edge followed by a one and one-half rotation in the air before landing on the other foot on a back outside edge, more frequently.

"That growth spurt really messed up my balance," he said. "I had to learn movements, steps, turns and jumps, all over again. It was like starting over, in a way."

To qualify for Junior Nationals, skaters must first compete in qualifying events on the regional level for singles and at the sectional level for pairs and ice dancing. They must also pass a series of U.S. Figure Skating tests before being eligible to compete.

"He's worked extremely hard to get where he is today, especially with the ups and downs he's had with his recent growth spurt," said Michael Modro, who, along with assistant coach Bianca Butler, has coached Scoralle and Piper in pairs for the past 1 1/2 years.

Modro has competed for the U.S. in figure skating at both the national and international levels. He and skating partner Katie Uhlig placed 17th in the pairs competition at the 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The event determined the U.S. teams for the 2006 Winter Olympics, as well as three other international competitions.

"I think that there's definitely a future in the sport for Matthew," he said. "It's not coming tomorrow, or next year, but down the road when he gains more experience. He's been working hard. To make it in the sport, you have to go 100%. It's a long-term sport, but worth it. There's a lot of challenges but it's been rewarding for he and his family.

"This year, it's all about getting experience at nationals for both he and Hadley. Getting on the ice, and off that ice, as a team, is what's really important for them."

Scoralle and Piper will compete Friday to a choreographed number created for the pair from music from the Tim Burton film, "The Corpse Bride."

"Our goal was to make it to Junior Nationals and we made it," Scoralle said. "It's really awesome and we're both really excited.

"Some people work their butts off to get to Junior Nationals. We got lucky. We got there on our first try."

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