Alice Sue Claeys went to great lengths to become a skater, commuting every two weeks for 4 1/2 years between home in Atlanta and coaching in Janesville, Wis. The traveling kept her out of regular schools and in year-round correspondence courses that kept her moving in another direction: She passed grades faster than other kids.

Claeys has made both pay. She's a 14-year-old freshman at the University of Minnesota, and now she's the national junior champion figure skater, having won the singles title Saturday in the Salt Palace.Claeys was second in Saturday's freestyle to Geremi Weiss, but she won both the compulsories and original program and took the title with 3.0 factored places to 4.8 for Weiss.

"I didn't quite do my complete best, but I'm happy," said Claeys, a theater-arts and dance major with a minor in foreign languages at UM.

In junior pairs, Richard Alexander, who was 10th nationally last year with partner Natasha Kuchiki (who in turn was second in senior pairs Friday night with her new partner, Todd Sand) moved up to a championship with his partner of four months, Tristen Vega.

Alexander explained that Kuchiki and her mother wanted her to move into seniors while he preferred another year of juniors, so the change was made last year after nationals.

Alexander tried another partner from the East Coast - he's from Simi Valley, Calif. - but that partner didn't want to move on to seniors eventually, so he called Vega, until then a singles skater.

She'd never thought of doing pairs, and her mother was against it because of the danger in lifts and throws, but Tristen liked pairs, and her mother ecided Richard was good enough to be careful. They started skating together Sept. 11, 1989. She remains in singles, too, having placed fifth at the Pacific Coast sectional.

Alexander said the match was carefully thought out. "We were put together for a future and not one competition," he said. "I want to go straight to seniors with Tristen."