Defending champ Bradie Tennell leads ladies’ short program at U.S. Championships

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DETROIT – The champ held off the phenom.

With her best short program of an inconsistent season, a performance that got stronger as it went along, defending champion Bradie Tennell took command of the U.S. Championships on Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena.

“There have been bright spots and not so bright spots,” Tennell said of her season leading up to nationals. “I’m just cranking away at my programs and the daily grind.”

She ground through the first part of this one, then took flight in the second half, flying unfettered across the ice and still remaining in full control of her final two jumps and two spins.

The result was a flawless 2-minutes, 50 seconds and 76.60 points, giving Tennell, 20, a lead of 2.71 points over Alysa Liu, the 13-year-old expected to take command of U.S. women’s skating in the near future.

“I just enjoyed my performance,” Tennell said. “There really wasn’t thinking involved. I just kind of went on autopilot and got into the zone.”

Results: Ladies’ short program

Liu, last season’s U.S. junior champion, became the first woman to land a triple Axel in the short program at nationals and drew a standing ovation after a program in which the only flaw was an underrotated second jump in her triple Lutz, triple toe combination.

The 4-foot, 7-inch Liu was not overwhelmed by the big stage but was overcome by how well she handled it.  She burst into tears before taking her bows.

“I was really happy,” Liu said of her emotional outpouring.

MORE: How to watch U.S. Championships

Mariah Bell, considered a title contender for the first time in her career, needed perfection to beat Liu, who piled up 10.17 of her 73.89 points for the triple Axel. Bell fell just short, underrotating the triple toe loop in her Lutz-toe combination to finish with 70.30.

“I’m pretty disappointed in myself about the combo,” Bell said.  “It hasn’t come together yet this season.  I’m being held back by the unders [under-rotations].”

The top two after Friday’s free skate will be likely go to Worlds – unless one of them is Liu, who is age ineligible not only for senior worlds until the 2021-22 season but for junior worlds until next season.

MORE: Get to know Alysa Liu

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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