Tim Benz: Pittsburgh-trained ice dance team competing at national championships with Olympic dreams and personal goals


Let’s say you’re a Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman. You’ve never played on the NHL scene before. Your partner is also not on the blue line. Your first game together will be in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Let it flow for a minute.

For Pittsburgh-trained ice dancers Cara Murphy and Josh Levitt, this was their reality at last year’s National Championship in Las Vegas. It was their first year working together, without a competitive qualifying season due to coronavirus restrictions. But they still received an invitation to compete as they signed up for the championship level before the start of the season.

However, with covid-19 constantly in the way, they didn’t hit the ice in front of the judges as partners heading into the national championship.

“There were no spectators,” Murphy said of the trip to Vegas. “Just cardboard cutouts. So it was a good way to relax. It wasn’t a crowded arena. With (the nationals) being our first competition, it was very exciting. But also a good way to get comfortable.

Now, after a more familiar US figure skating qualifying streak, Murphy and Levitt (both 23) have found their way back to the national championship this weekend in Nashville (Friday and Saturday on NBC Sports). The top three pairs will advance to the Olympics in the championship ice dance event and represent the U.S. team at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games (February 4 – February 20).

Levitt and Murphy trained at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center with coaches Rachel Lane McCarthy and Andrejs Sitkis. Levitt, originally from Virginia, actually moved to Pittsburgh so that he could practice full time with Murphy, a native of Mount Lebanon and a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.

“So how did you two meet?” “

The story of how they connected in the internet age is like two people who crave love more than Olympic gold.

“There’s a website for that,” Levitt said with a laugh.

No. This is not a dating app, but a skating industry site called IcePartnerSearch.com, which provides connections to potential partners.

“Cara had a profile. I was looking to change discipline in dance. And I saw that she was tall enough (5ft 5in) for me. There aren’t many girls who are tall enough to skate with a 6’3 ” guy. But I saw that she had some amazing programs there. A very good skater. So I texted him, ”Levitt said.

Levitt was a pairs skater looking for a new partner in the discipline of ice dance. Murphy had competed in solo and solo dance events.

Murphy was in the same boat as Levitt, looking for someone tall enough to be a good fit on the ice, as she made a change in competitions.

And try to find someone she had the right chemistry with.

“I learned a lot from Josh,” Murphy said. “He’s had partners in the past when I was just a skater. I learned a lot about how to communicate with a partner. When the going gets tough, how do you get over them. We hit it off on the first try. We are both nice people. It worked well.

So the two of them started to send messages. Levitt came to Pittsburgh for a pair of tries together. Soon after, Levitt packed his bags and headed to Pittsburgh for good.

That’s where his coaches and those at the Island Sports Center came in. Helping him find an apartment five minutes from the rink. Connect him with potential young skaters to train him so he can make a living while training here.

Levitt says the welcome he received from Pittsburgh made the life transition of his adventure easier.

“Everyone here has been great. Really nice. Help me get the students to coach. Get comfortable. It has been wonderful to be a part of this community and to know everyone, ”said Levitt.

Learn on the fly

Outdoors, many may think of skating as skating. How different can sports be, right?

The answer is: a lot.

In ice dancing, there are no ski lifts. No jumps. No more borders. So maybe not so focused on the power of the sport. But even more, an emphasis on grace, expression, fluidity of movement, musicality and a symbiotic relationship with your partner.

“For pairs, it’s a lot more strength-based elements,” Levitt said. “And for dance, it’s a lot more about movements and expressions of the body and extensions to create images on the ice.”

Lane McCarthy said the adjustments for a solo skater / dancer and a pairs skater are not easy. But Murphy and Levitt were quick studies.

“(Levitt) did all of his compulsory dances in one year. Which is almost impossible. That’s how hard he worked, ”Lane McCarthy said. “With Cara, the main thing for her was to get used to dancing with a partner. Trust Josh for the big lifts. Josh is used to doing big lifts. Cara wasn’t used to it yet. Now it is so natural for her.

Sitkis felt that the partners had the right tools to make the transition to the championship level.

“They were both very skilled skaters when they came in,” Sitkis said. “So it wasn’t like they were starting from scratch. It was not easy. But it was not abnormal for them to skate together… In two years, they have come a long way.

Gold within their reach

The Murphy-Levitt tandem honed a relationship on the ice quickly enough to become the first pair to reach the RMU ISC Ranks National Championships since Marsha Snyder and Peter Fischl in 2008, also coached by Lane McCarthy.

“It’s a great honor,” said Beth Sutton, RMU ISC Director of Skating. “It’s a great representation of the athletes that we have here in Pittsburgh and at the Island Sports Center. “

By Lane McCarthy’s own admission, reaching the Olympics is a “long shot” for Murphy and Levitt. After all, the top two American couples who will face off in Nashville (Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, Madison Chock and Evan Bates) are both Olympic medal contenders.

“My goal is for them to have the best skate they could possibly have,” said Lane McCarthy. “They worked so hard for this event. I just want them to have an amazing experience and hopefully get their best score of the year.

It would be something above 111 points. For Murphy, showing off their talents on America’s biggest stage for their sport is a reward in itself.

“I’ve been watching the US Nationals on TV since I started skating at the age of six,” said Murphy. “To be there competing with my models is an absolute dream come true. It was a surreal experience last year and we are delighted to have qualified this year… I feel honored to represent this program and this rink at the national level.

This time, having earned their place there. This time, not in front of cardboard cutouts.

Tim Benz is an editor for Tribune-Review. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication, unless otherwise specified.

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