With nationals a mere five weeks away, local teens Larkyn Austman and Madeline Edwards have a leg up on their competition when it comes to that top step.
Both were victorious at the Skate Canada Challenge in Regina on the weekend, with Austman capturing the junior ladies title, while Edwards and partner Zhao Kai Pang took top honour in the junior dance event.
Still excited about the result, 15-year-old Edwards said the pair were thrilled to be competing at their fifth Challenge, especially after having represented Canada at a pair of Junior Grand Prix events this past summer.
"We were really excited to compete in Canada again and we were very happy with the result," said Edwards.
The short dance, featuring a favoured blues and swing number, put them in the lead. A strong showing in the free dance, while not flawless, kept them there.
"The short dance went really well, the blues and swing dance is a fun one," said Edwards.
"Overall we did well in the free dance, although I made a mistake on a twizzle."
The pair now target the nationals with momentum in their stride. The Canadians go next month in Mississauga, and Edwards and Pang intend to improve upon last year's second-place result in the junior division - where they trailed the champions by a mere two points.
The Port Moody skater, who trains under the guidance of former national champions Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe in Burnaby, said they've been working steadily since posting back-to-back third place showings in junior Grand Prix meets in France and Turkey last summer.
Although seemingly hectic, the schedule and practice pace are all important pieces of their plan to reach the top pinnacle, she noted.
"I think it's been very beneficial for us more than any-thing. It pushes us, and a lot of the pressure is what we put on ourselves," the Heritage Woods student said.
For Coquitlam's Austman, the field of 48 competitors were put on notice early as the Dr. Charles Best student stood second overall after the short program, then strode to the front of the pack with a tremendous performance in the free program.
"Some people may feel intimidated to be chasing first, but for her it's a great position," noted mom Heather Austman, who along with Eileen Murphy, serves as her coach. "She's had a great season so far and every event she's gone in and come out more confident in her abilities."
The 14-year-old Austman finished 10 points ahead of her nearest competitor, racking up the points in the free program by nailing four of her five triple jumps.
It was a huge jump up from the 2011 Challenge, where she placed 10th among novice skaters.
Austman trains in Coquitlam and is affiliated with the Richmond-based Connaught Skating Club.
Like Edwards, Austman will be looking to improve upon last year's second-place finish - although the Coquitlam skater competed as a novice in 2011. She finished five points back of the champion.
Austman's mom believes all the hard work has put her in a good position to accomplish just that.
"Her fitness level has improved to the point where she can run run that full program back to front," she said.