Champs! The University of St. Thomas Dance Team members are,
left to right: first row (kneeling) – Captains Stacey Koesters,
Pam Sylvestre and Lisa Orth;
second row – Cate Lehman, Jackie Kling, Jessica Larson,
Malorie Booth and Sarah Akin;
third row – Noelle Fabian, Dani Blackowiak and Jackie Berling;
fourth row (back) – Amanda Renz, Miranda Mulligan, Danielle Olson, Rachel Chadima and Kristin Seifert.

UST Dance Team wins second national championship

By Alysia Anderson, UST Dance Team coach

It seemed nothing could stop the University of St. Thomas Dance Team from accomplishing its goals. Just getting to Orlando, Fla., for the National College Cheerleading and Dance Team Championships was a challenge. Although the team already had secured a No. 1 seed going into the Jan. 19-20 competition, major airport delays and inclement weather took their toll on its plans.

The original itinerary had all members of the team traveling together, but a canceled flight meant the team would have to split up to get to the championships on time. I had to rebook our tickets and sent the team to Orlando on seven different flights – through Salt Lake City, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark, Atlanta and Tampa. Nearly 20 hours after we had met at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, everyone arrived in Orlando safe and sound. They were real troupers.

Despite the glitch in travel plans, the team’s spirit and determination didn’t miss a beat. I think all of the drama with the flights helped us to realize how much we truly enjoy being together. It brought us closer as friends and teammates. The team had one last rehearsal on Friday, the day before the competition began. At this point it wasn’t so much about drilling the actual moves in the routine; we focused instead on the performance aspect and the emotional connection to the music. We knew other teams would have strong performances so I knew the artistic details would set us apart.

The team had strong performances in the semifinal round, moving it into the finals confident and hungry. I think our ranking after semifinals was exactly what we needed. We had scores that put us in the top four in both jazz and hip-hop, but not quite on top. There was room for improvement in both, and we knew it was going to be a tight race to the finish. Entering finals, our goal was not necessarily to win, but to have the best performance possible. I always stressed to the team that a trophy was just plastic – it can be replicated and won’t last forever – but the feeling of knowing we had our best performance possible with no regrets will last forever.

Weather again became a factor, moving the final round of hip-hop to a later time in a different venue. When you are so focused in competition, having such a dramatic change in your surroundings can be a real distraction. Luckily, the team was able to relax and refuel before taking the floor for hip-hop finals.  When they ended, St. Thomas had closed the gap and moved up two places from the semifinal round for a strong second-place finish.

The next day the team switched gears for the jazz finals. Jazz is a completely different state of mind than hip-hop, so the preparation before taking the floor was crucial. The team stretched and visualized the routine, then gathered for a last bit of inspiration. Our choreographer, Karl Mundt, recently had lost his mother and that day was her birthday. We decided to dedicate the performance to her memory.

The final performance was amazing, as the team danced with open hearts and open minds. Awards didn’t seem to matter. Even finishing in the top 10 would have felt like an accomplishment.  But once again, the Tommies moved up two places from the semifinal round! They had become the 2008 national champions.

The 2008 National College Cheerleading and Dance Team Championships will be nationally televised on ESPN and ESPN2. Air dates will be announced.

Many thanks and congratulations to the St. Thomas Dance Team: Captains Stacey Koesters, Lisa Orth and Pam Sylvestre, junior Sarah Akin, sophomores Jackie Berling, Malorie Booth, Noelle Fabian, Jackie Kling, Jessica Larson and Kristin Seifert, and freshmen Dani Blackowiak, Rachel Chadima, Cate Lehman, Miranda Mulligan, Danielle Olson and Amanda Renz.