ELLENTON -- Cirinia Gillett, 13, of Sarasota and her pairs partner, Maximiliano Fernandez, 18, of Parrish, had excitement in their voices hours before the biggest competition of their ice skating careers.
The pair, who have trained together at Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex since last February, scored 38.81 in their short program at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center Sunday afternoon, good for second place out of 12 competitors after the first day of their first U.S. Figure Skating Championships appearance.
Gillett and Fernandez, who are in the novice division, are part of an 11-skater contingent from Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex who qualified for the championships, which run Jan. 5-12.
"It's a really big experience," Gillett said by phone before Sunday's novice competition, which wraps up with long programs Monday. "I am very surprised and happy to be here and that I have a chance to show the audience and judges what I feel about skating and how
I love it and how Max loves it, too."
Speedy and precise, Gillett and Fernandez will skate Monday to the music of Stargate.
"We are both fast skaters and we got our timing down together quickly," Gillett said. "Being here I can't help thinking of all the people in Ellenton and how they are like a family to us."
A second novice pair from Ellenton, Grace Knoop and Noah Chinault, scored 31.38 points Sunday and are in eighth place. Their long program music is from "Mary Poppins."
"It feels very comfortable to be here," Chinault said. "There is absolutely competitive excitement in the air. Everyone from Ellenton is ready to go put their best out on the ice."
The novice division is a view of America's skating future, but the senior division, which opens with short programs Thursday and concludes with long programs Saturday, determines who is likely to be picked for the U.S. Olympic figure skating team going to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
NBC TV is broadcasting live eight hours of senior competition this Saturday and Sunday.
Five Ellenton skaters are in the senior division, all with shots at the U.S. Olympic team.
Pair skater partners Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, and Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea, are joined by Daniel Raad who is in pursuit of a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in the field of senior men.
Raad previously has been a national silver medalist as a pairs skater. Raad's short program is Friday and his long program is Sunday.
Zhang and Bartholomay are the 2013 U.S. pairs bronze medalists and senior Grand Prix Internationals competitors. Kayne and O'Shea placed seventh at the 2013 U.S. Championships and are three-time international medalists.
The junior division short programs Wednesday includes the Ellenton pair team of Alyssa McDougal and Paul Schatz, who are also attending their first U.S. National Championships. McDougal and Schatz have their long programs Friday.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they all made it to the Olympics," Gillett said of the seniors. "I'd be very, very happy for them."
Many Manatee County residents fondly recall the two senior pairs who skated for the United States in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics emerged from the Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex -- Caydee Denney and partner, Jeremy Barrett, and Amanda Evora and her partner, Mark Ladwig.
Evora, who now coaches at Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex, and Ladwig finished 10th in Vancouver, the best finish for the Americans.
"What makes it interesting is that Caydee Denney, who now skates out of Colorado, is here in Boston with a different partner, John Coughlin, and they have to be considered one of the favorites to make the U.S. Olympic team," said Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex Figure Skating co-coach Jim Peterson, who instructs all 11 skaters along with Lyndon Johnston and Evora. "Also, the 2013 defending national championship pairs team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir have to be a favorite."
Peterson doesn't count out the two Ellenton senior pairs.
"Both of our senior pairs are dark horses for Sochi but I don't think anyone ever expected them to be in this position at all," Peterson said. "All four are healthy and ready and have done everything they can to be prepared. The potential is certainly there for them to get a spot."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.