This past weekend the Minnesota State University, Mankato dance team made team history with their College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship performances. Throughout the three-day weekend the team notched two first place national championships and one runner-up placement.
On Friday the team competed in the open game day category for the first time, where they placed second in the nation. Head coach Jennifer James commented on the process of preparing for this category.
“It was incredible. Obviously, going into it we weren’t quite sure what we were getting into. We had done tons of research as to looking at teams in the past and what the flow has been and what they’ve done to bring different elements to their game day performance,” James stated. “We tried to keep it pretty traditional to what we do at MSU for our game day. That’s kind of the point of game day, to show off your traditions and what you do at your school, but then also bring that competitive aspect to it, which makes it kind of tricky.”
James said that once the girls performed in the first round of open game day, they placed in third and had only two hours to go over the routine and think of new strategies in order to improve for the final performance later that day.
“They were focused, they were ready to grind it out,” James said. “So in two hours we were able to take our placement from third to second.”
Junior team captain Reese Schwarzentraub explained how the team prepared mentally and physically before the big day.
“Before we actually competed, we had a practice on Wednesday in a parking lot for our game day performance to get up in that mindset of ‘We’re here and ready to compete’. Thursday, we spent about three hours practicing,” Schwarzentraub commented.
She then went on to explain how the team placed second for game day, the first in team history, and on Saturday the team performed in both the pom and jazz categories. In between each category the placements were announced, with MSU placing first in both categories for the semi-finals.
“As a team we have made history as we have never been first in both categories going into finals. After that it was all about keeping our position and not letting it slip away from us,” Schwarzentraub commented.
The finals for pom and jazz were held on Sunday, where the team took first place in both categories, again making team history.
“We didn’t have any expectations going into nationals this year. We just kind of wanted to put our dances out there and do the best we possibly could and for that our best to be number one in the entire nation for both of our dances was just an unreal feeling for everyone,” junior team captain Karley Odella said.
Added fifth-year team captain Paige Paquette, “I feel like this team was the legacy team and I’m just very happy that we were able to be a part of it this year.”
Competing at nationals this year didn’t come without struggles, as James pointed out.
“Coaching a younger team definitely can, and at times does, have its struggles, as you have no clue if the team is going to have a strong relationship with one another or not. In that sense, that was definitely not a struggle. This team without a doubt has such a great bond and loves each other.”
A large majority of the team has never made an appearance at nationals before, leaving them unsure of what to expect.
“With only having four vets on the team who have actually been and competed on the nationals floor we knew we needed to prepare the team. So, we gave them a full nationals play-by-play of the flow and run-down,” James added.
“As a coach I was very nervous about only having four and ended up with three, due to an injury, on the floor. Nationals is loud and can be very overwhelming, so I knew we had to walk them through every scenario and prepare them the best we could. No matter how much you prepare, nationals is something you have to experience to fully understand how magical it is.”
To cheer on the team, various alumni and family members made the trip down to Orlando, Florida. Head coach Jennifer James said this support didn’t go unnoticed.
“We had tons of alumni at the event, so that was amazing to see those former MSU dance team alumni come down to cheer us on and see us place that double natty’s championship. We’re just proud to represent our school in a great way and get our name out there,” James stated.
Among MSU, various other Minnesota schools placed within the top five in numerous categories. In this, St. Cloud State University took first in open game day and second in both pom and jazz, University of Minnesota-Duluth took fourth place in both pom and jazz, and College of St. Benedict took fifth in jazz.
“When you’re competing against schools from all over the country, it’s pretty exciting that Minnesota is hitting those top five placements,” James commented.