Castelli and Shnapir Top U.S. Pairs in Junior Grand Prix series

Articles, Articles by Barry Mittan

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir

The U. S. pairs team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir are just starting to make their mark in skating. This season, they were the top-ranked U. S. junior pair during the Junior Grand Prix Season.

Castelli, who was born on the same day as Shnapir, is now 18. She began skating at the age of three. “My Mom coaches ladies,” she said. “She would take me to the rink to skate around and I thought it was fun.”

She reached the Eastern Sectionals in novice ladies in 2007, but gave up singles skating after she started pairs. Castelli had just landed her first double Axel and triple Salchow that year. “I may try singles again next year,” she said, “but if there’s too much pressure, I’ll just do pairs.”

Shnapir began skating when he was six, so even though he is three years older, they both have the same years of experience. He was born in Russia, but his family emigrated to the United States when he was only 16 months old. Although his parents enjoyed watching skating, they were not competitive skaters themselves. But his mother skated recreationally.

“They said I picked skating, but I think they pushed me into it,” he said, “but I’m glad.” He landed his first double Axel at 17 and his first triple Salchow at 18, but never reached past the Regional level in novice. He quit in 2003.

Shnapir is the more experienced in pairs, having started seven years ago. “A lot of it had to to do with my coach, who was a pairs skater,” Shnapir said. “I also have the height for it. I tried it and like it, then did both for a while and transitioned over into only pairs.”

He previously partnered Tanya Aziz, placing tenth in juvenile pairs in 2003 and ninth in intermediate pairs in 2004 at Junior Nationals. He next competed with Courtney Gill, finishing fifth in intermediate pairs at Junior Nationals in 2005 and tenth in novice pairs at Easterns in 2006. “We only made it to Sectionals in novice and then broke up,” he added.

“I fooled around for a few months and then had my coach contact Marissa’s coach,” Shnapir stated. “We had competed against each other at Junior Nationals and I knew of her skating.”

“I was trying to focus on my singles career and didn’t want to do pairs,” she said. “It was scary, but I thought I’d give it a try because there’s no Regionals and you can go straight to Easterns.”

“The height differences makes it easy to do the elements because she’s so small and light,” Shnapir said. “It was weird at first but now it doesn’t bother me,” Castelli said. “I like throws the most because that’s the one thing I can control.”

“I like doing lifts,” Shnapir stated. “I’ve been working on lifts for a long time and they’re very solid.”

The couple began training in earnest in June 2006. They first competed at the 2006 Eastern Sectionals, placing fourth to qualify for Nationals. They placed ninth in novice pairs at the 2007 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships and made their international debut that fall with a 10th-place finish at the JGP Estonia. In January 2008, they won the U.S. novice pairs bronze medal.

“We were selected for two Junior Grand Prixs as novices because there weren’t any eligible teams from the juniors podium,” Shnapir stated. They finished fourth in both the Czech Republic and Great Britain.

The couple qualified for the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in 2008, their only year of eligibility because Shnapir, now 21, will age out in 2009. They finished sixth in the event, but were not disappointed by their placement.

“We had no expectations,” Castelli said. “We just wanted to skate well and be known as a good junior team. We don’t like to plan our goals. What happens, happens. We’d rather be surprised than disappointed.

Bobby Martin and Carrie Wall coach the skaters, who train in Boxborough, Massachusetts. They work for two or three hours a day, five days a week on ice and an hour and a half of lifts off ice. Both skaters each do their own conditioning training for 2-3 hours a week.

Their short program contains side-by-side double Lutzes, a throw double loop, and a double Lutz twist lift. In their long, the elements include a throw double Axel and throw triple Salchow, side-by-side double Axels and a double Lutz-double toe sequence, and a triple Lutz twist lift.

Sheryl Franks choreographed their 2008-09 programs. They like to change at least one program each year, if not both. “It’s difficult to maintain the same program for more than a year because you get bored,” Shnapir explained. “Marissa’s very talented and has lots of good ideas for program.”

“We want to stand out more so we take the opportunity to create different programs,” Castelli noted. “I like to put in my own ideas.”

The couple skated to “Wild Dogs”, “The Gathering” and “Ancient Voices of Guatemala” by Russ Landau from the soundtrack of the “Survivor Guatemala” television series. “Not many people skate to that,” Castelli added.

For their long program, Castelli and Shnapir skated to music from “The Gladiator” soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard.

Shnapir is the more musically inclined. He played the drums, guitar, violin and saxophone when he was younger. “It’s helped to understand the music and tempo,” he said. Off ice, he listens to hard rock, hip-hop, and heavy metal while Castelli listens to country, pop and rock.

Both of the skaters also have athletic interest. Shnapir, who is substantially taller than his tiny partner, likes to play basketball with friends but never competed in the sport.

The diminutive Castelli, however, was a lacrosse player. “It’s a violent game, but I loved to play,” she said. “I played all through high school. We won our division and made it to the Rhode Island state championship game twice.”

“I used to play on a softball team and I was a cheerleader for seven years up through my sophomore year of high school,” she added. “I had to give that up when I really got into skating.”

Her other interests include shopping, watching movies and listening to music. Shnapir enjoys reading, traveling, and watching action, suspense and independent movies.

Shnapir is a sophomore at Emerson College studying marketing and communications. ” want to work in advertising or public relations,” he said. “There are many different fields to pursue with a marketing degree.”

Castelli is a freshman in community college, doing her basic courses on line. “I’m thinking about going into fashion merchandising,” she said. “I really like fashion and shopping and reading the magazines. I design my own dresses for on the ice and I’ve tried to make some clothes but I’m not very good at it.”

She works on the weekends now, helping her mother teach figure skating classes for a few hours a week. He teaches a little as well. “You always have coaching to fall back on,” he stated.

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