Maple Grove’s Haley Briesch: Computer-Analyzed Skater

Maple Grove seventh-grader Haley Briesch uses computer technology to analyze her spins and jumps.
Haley Briesch with coach Tom Incantalupo at their practice rink in Edina, Braemar Arena.

Each morning, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., 12-year-old Haley Briesch can be found on the ice. Donning her Lululemon warm-up jacket, she laces up her white skates and takes to the cool glassy surface to practice two to three hours a day.

The Maple Grove seventh-grader receives advice from her coach Tom Incantalupo, a former elite skater himself, and the assistance of a state-of-the-art computer modeling system called Dartfish. Together, Incantalupo and Briesch watch as her spins and jumps appear on the screen in slow motion—with an available 60 frames per second.

“There’s no magic pill with any of this, it’s a tool that has to be utilized at the right time,” Incantalupo says.

The system allows Incantalupo, a coach at Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club, to analyze every facet of Briesch’s spins and jumps. He can make multiple recordings and overlay them to look for inconsistencies; he can even overlay the work of an elite skater, providing inspiration.

For Haley Briesch the impact of the screen system combined with Incantalupo’s coaching, and her own tenacity, earned her the top spot for her level in the 2013 Upper Great Lakes Regional Figure Skating Championship. She hopes to relive her success again this year and progress to sectionals and then nationals.

When Briesch first began with Incantalupo in the summer of 2011 she struggled with her single axel. For six months Incantalupo guided her in the basics; posture, arm control and body mechanics. She landed her first axel in the fall and progressed from there. Now, she’s working on her double axel.

“It’s fun to be out there and doing what you love even if I do fall and it hurts,” Briesch said. “If I get back up and land the jump that I was working on for so long it makes me feel really good.”

Briesch says she does a celebratory dance in her head and instantly sets a new goal for herself. For her, the one-on-one coaching and the aid of Dartfish, has made a difference.

“It helps me so I can see it and visualize what I need to do,” Briesch said.

Incantalupo has been working with the technology since he purchased it in 2002; right after it debuted on prime time during the Olympics. In 2005 he received certifications from the U.S. Olympic Committee and Dartfish to interpret the technology which today can be found in almost every professional and Olympic sport as well as in the hands of some golf pros.

For Incantalupo, it’s a way to find the exact second when a skater’s toe pick leaves the ice and makes contact again. He and other coaches from across the country have compiled data on their skaters and are close to knowing the exact minimum speed and height at which a skater must begin a jump in order to end it successfully.

“It’s not an exact science but it’s darn close,” Incantalupo says.

When Haley came to Incantalupo in 2011 he estimates she was a year or two older than other skaters at her level. After six months of coaching he talked with the Briesch’s and told them Haley needed more time on the ice if she truly wanted to advance two levels and meet the goals she’d set out for herself.

Haley, much to her parents’ surprise, immediately agreed and opted to leave the private school she was attending in January 2012, in favor of Minnesota Connections Academy, an online school that allows her to practice in the morning and study in the afternoons.

“Her improvements were dramatic,” Incantalupo says. “I haven’t seen anything quite like it in awhile.”

She successfully completed four jumps in her regionals routine in October 2012, while other skaters her level weren’t able to land more than three. Now, she’s advanced a skill level beyond skaters her age.

“Her improvements since then have been more staggering than even the first year of her skating,” Incantalupo says.

Incantalupo, who was trained by the legendary Peter Burrows, coach for Dorothy Hamill, doesn’t talk about future competitions with his skaters though Haley’s dream is to someday make it to the Olympics.

“She really lights up a stage, she goes out and she performs,” Incantalupo says. “She’s not bashful, she looks into the judges’ eyes…she does it naturally. (She’s athletic so) her jumps are very big, very fast and very impressive.”//