FALMOUTH — Near the end of their last practice session before heading to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Yarmouth High School sophomore Franz-Peter Jerosch gathered speed, lifted partner Jade Esposito and flung her twirling body.

Esposito landed on one skate … and toppled to the ice at the Family Ice Center, ponytail askew, spinning slowly spread-eagle.

Not to worry, said Esposito, a fellow 15-year-old from Newton, Massachusetts. “That’s the last session of our day, so it’s always a little discombobulated.”

Such mishaps are infrequent during competition for Jerosch and Esposito, the Eastern Sectional champions in intermediate pairs. Twelve pairs from the country’s three sectionals qualified to compete this weekend at the national championships in Independence, Missouri. Jerosch and Esposito will skate in a short program Saturday night and a long program Sunday afternoon.

Last January in Minneapolis, Jerosch won a silver medal at the juvenile level – the lowest of five levels represented at nationals – with Julia Curran, then 12, of Westbrook. His partnership with Curran dissolved after last season.

“She wanted to focus on singles,” said Kristin Andrews, who coached them last year and continues to coach Jerosch and Esposito at their Sunday practices in Maine. They also train twice a week with other coaches in Boxborough, Massachusetts.

IMPERFECT MATCH, STRONG CONNECTION

Esposito had been skating pairs with another partner for four years, advancing to the nationals in intermediate pairs – one level above juvenile – in each of the past two years.

“When you watch a pairs team that has a good connection, there’s a comfortable feeling,” Andrews said. “You can see their passion for the sport. If someone’s not smiling and not looking happy out there, you don’t want to watch them. (Jerosch and Esposito) really make you want to watch them.”

Although they’ve known each other for years, Jerosch and Esposito hesitated before getting together on the ice. The concern was that Jerosch jumps and spins in a clockwise direction and Esposito goes counter-clockwise.

“Normally, that’s not the most perfect match,” she said. “But we tried it out and it did not become a big deal at all. We clicked. Our coaches really liked how we skated together.”

Instead of jumping in unison, they cross paths first and become mirror images. On spins, they compromise. He goes her way on the death spiral and she goes his on the pairs spin.

“Once we figured those things out, it worked really well,” she said. “But that was definitely one of our beginning struggles. Judges don’t really like lefty-righty teams because they look less synchronized, but judges have told us that we look good as a lefty-righty team.”

They also have a significant disparity in height. Jerosch, who turns 16 next month, is 6-foot-1. Esposito is 4-9. Her parents run a martial arts center, so she is versed in karate and kick-boxing. Off the ice, Jerosch made first chair clarinet for All-State Band. Both are honors students.

“They’re a strong team and they have strong elements,” Andrews said. “They have a wonderful sense of maturity and a good friendship, which you see on the ice.”

LAST MAINE MEDAL AT THIS LEVEL: IN 1999

They grew more confident through the summer, and felt an Eastern Sectional victory was possible.

“Then we saw some of the scores coming in (from likely competitors),” Jerosch said. “They were really, really high. We thought, ‘Well, we’ll try to get on the podium.’ ”

Of the seven intermediate pairs competing at Easterns, held in North Carolina in November, Jerosch and Esposito scored highest by more than a point and a half in their short program. Their margin of victory in the long program was similar.

Now they advance to nationals, where the last Maine pairs skater to medal at this level or above was Jaisa MacAdam of Orrs Island in 1999. She and her partner won silver in junior pairs.

“We’re second in the nation, but not by much,” Esposito said. “We’ve made multiple adjustments to improve our score. And we did not skate perfectly clean at Easterns, either, so we do have things to improve on.”