10. Courtney Hicks (USA)
Courtney Hicks wins the edge over Polina Edmunds for #10 this season (I had Polina as #11). Courtney's season started out in mediocre fashion at Cup of China where she placed 6th, but thanks to some overall better skating from her and some incredibly crappy skating from some of the top names, she walked away with a silver medal at NHK Trophy. The jumps have always been Courtney's forte but she struggles when it comes to controlling them. Her skating style isn't very appealing but she can rack up big numbers when she hits her jumps and spins. If Courtney can build on the momentum of that silver medal in Nagano, she has a very good shot at that third spot on the U.S. team.
9. Julia Lipnitskaya (RUS)
Julia's season started off pretty roughly at Skate America where she placed 6th, more than 17 points away from the podium. However, it appeared as though she was beginning to turn things around during her SP at Trophee Bompard. Julia delivered a much stronger performance there and even appeared to be enjoying herself, which is something we haven't seen from her in a while. She placed a comfortable 2nd in the SP but, unfortunately, she never got the opportunity to back up that performance with her FS. For that reason, Julia comes into nationals with a bit of a question mark. New coach, new Julia? Who knows? Given the unbelievable depth in Russia, I don't think Julia will get a spot at Worlds even if she skates well; however, I could see them giving her a trip to Euros as a consolation prize.
8. Rika Hongo (JPN)
Rika really grabbed people's attention early in the season with her 15 point victory at Finlandia Trophy. She continued to build up her momentum at Cup of China where she earned a silver medal with the best two performances of her life. Rika posted personal bests in both segments and forced a lot of people to finally take notice of the strides she's made as a performer over the past two years. Unfortunately, Rika's second event did not go as smoothly. She had issues in both programs and placed a disappointing 5th. Nationals will be Rika's chance to bounce back after that disappointment. She's still Japan's clear #3 but she will be up against some new talent that could beat her out for that spot if she doesn't deliver.
7. Mao Asada (JPN)
6. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
5. Ashley Wagner (USA)
Ashley's season has been a roller coaster: down at Japan Open, up at Skate Canada, down again at NHK Trophy and down and then up at the Final. She's had highs (personal bests at two events this season) and lows (missing the GP podium for the first time since the 2011-2012 season). Her season has been a little all over the place but the good news for her is that her last performance was a strong one which gives her momentum as we move into nationals. However, Ashley has never been good at defending her title. She likes to be the hunter rather than the hunted, and she's the hunted this year which makes me worry about what we'll see from her. If Ashley can nail her content and skate with the fire, sass, emotion and razzle-dazzle she excels at, she can defend her title. With Worlds in the States this season, the U.S. champion will get all of the spotlight and shine. If Ashley wants that crown and the special perks that come with it this year, she can't back off at all.
4. Gracie Gold (USA)
On one hand, this has been a good season for Gracie. She finally has two strong programs that do a good job of showcasing her strengths as a skater, she put up a good fight at Skate America in the FS, and she turned in the best SP of her life at Trophee Bompard which earned her a trip to the Final. On the other hand despite all of these good things, Gracie is still under-performing. Everyone is waiting for her to wake up and start delivering...but it hasn't happened. Gracie's rather poor performances at the Final destroyed all of the momentum she started in Bordeaux which means she'll have to come out swinging at nationals. The one upside for her is she's not the defending champion this year. Without that load of pressure on her shoulders, she may be able to finally relax and just skate...or not. With Gracie, you never know.
3. Elena Radionova (RUS)
Life has been beating Elena with the puberty stick but she refuses to go down. Despite growing several inches over the past year and half Elena is hanging in there. Her clockwork consistency took a hit this season but, ever the fighter, she found a way to keep herself in the mix. Elena started off with shaky performances and a third place finish at Cup of China, but then stormed back with a gold medal at Rostelecom Cup. She made her third consecutive trip to the Final and landed on the podium for the second year in a row. Elena isn't as solid as she was last year but she's still a force to be reckoned with. She goes into nationals as the clear #2 but will have to put up a strong fight if she wants to retain her national title this year. Strong performances will help but she may need a little luck to get past Medvedeva.
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
1. Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
That's it for now. Russian nationals and Japanese nationals are later this week. I can't wait!