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NU Skating Club members work together to win figure-skating gold

Behind him, 10- and 11-year-old girls fell repeatedly. They would skate, wind up, jump and tumble to the ice inside the auxiliary rink in Dwyer Arena.

"They do fall," said Don Mitchell, a coach at the Niagara University Skating Club. "People might think, 'It's figure skating, they're girls.' Hockey players have equipment and stuff on. This ice is hard, and they fall pretty hard."

But Mitchell and his skaters agree that the training and personal sacrifice are all worth it. Last month, the club took first place at the Skaneateles Figure Skating Invitational. Out of 30 clubs, Mitchell's group took gold.

Some members have skated at the club their entire lives. Some are just starting. Its 50 members train up to five days a week in Dwyer Arena and the Hockey Outlet Ice Complex in North Tonawanda. The club, which is 15 years old, is a partnership with Mitchell's Skating Center.

Several different age groups take the ice during a typical training day. The atmosphere is loose and encouraging.

"We want them to work hard, but we're positive with the kids," Mitchell said. "There's no negativity. It's all positive reinforcement. They work hard and have a good time while they're here."

At Skaneateles from Dec. 3-5, scoring was based on a point system. Each skater was awarded a certain number of points depending on how he or she finished, and then the total was tallied. With four skaters earning firsts and seven earning seconds, the club took home the hardware.

Taylor Artieri, a freshman at Niagara County Community College, said she never played for any of her school teams at Newfane. Instead, her hours after school were always devoted to skating.

Winning in Skaneateles made it all worth it.

"Getting the trophy," said Artieri, who took fourth place in the senior division. "In my 19 years, I've skated for 16, and we never won something like this."

Isabella Fagiani, 16, added, "It's very exciting because we've come in second for several years. We haven't had that big of a group going. It gave us some bragging rights."

Artieri will compete at this winter's Empire State Games. Veterans of the club help teach younger skaters such as 10-year-old Sam Shea and 11-year-old Katrina Copeland. Both took second-place finishes at Skaneateles. In these two, like many of his up-and-comers, Mitchell sees a ton of potential.

He would know. Mitchell, who is from Long Island, competed in pairs with his sister. In junior pairs, they won the North Atlantic Regional Championships, Eastern Sectional Championships and the United States National Championships all in the same year. From there, they represented the country at the Junior Worlds and finished second. In the senior division, the Mitchell duo came in fourth nationally.

Both Sam and Katrina said they didn't feel any pressure at Skaneateles. They have already performed in front of large groups several times. And, no, it doesn't hurt to fall on the ice.

"You get used to it. She falls all the time and hits so hard!" said Sam, pointing to Katrina. "You get used to it. When you hit hard, it's really nothing until you hurt yourself."

Still, after some sessions, they notice the bruises on their arms.

"We'll see them and say, 'When did I get that?' " Sam said.

The woman who ran the Skaneateles Invitational told Mitchell that his club had the best camaraderie. This closeness, connecting members of all ages, may be why the group is so successful. Before events, Mitchell prints out a sheet of when each member skates and gives copies to everyone. That way, the entire group is in sync.

The result? A first-place finish that will keep the club moving forward.

"At some other places, if one kid does better than another there can be animosity," Mitchell said. "But all of our kids work together. If one kid lands a jump for the first time, someone will hug that kid, which is very unusual. The other one could say, 'Oh man, now she's ahead of me.' It's refreshing as a director to see that.

"This is one of the best groups we've had as a collective team."

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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