Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir finished nine points ahead of the second-place couple.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir have taken a big step toward their first pairs title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, easily winning the short program Thursday.

Castelli and Shnapir finished with 62.27 points, a whopping nine points ahead of Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay. The free skate is Saturday.

With defending champs Caydee Denney and John Coughlin out while he recovers from hip surgery, Castelli and Shnapir are heavy favorites. The NHK Trophy bronze medalists lived up to the billing, skating the most energetic program of the day. Their triple twist was huge, and would compare with any of the top couples in the world.

Their only real flaw was on their combination spin, which was horribly out of unison.

The women's short program is later Thursday.

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