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3 cheers for dance team

February 15, 2018 GMT

There may be tough completion in figure skating, downhill skiing and hockey in the 2018 Olympics, but it was cheer and dance that took center stage in a championship competition at Hastings College Saturday.

For the second year in a row, the Great Plains Athletic Conference hosted its cheer and dance championships at Lynn Farrell Arena, this year bringing in 16 teams from 10 different schools.

Midland University swept the day, taking first in both the cheer and dance competitions.

The GPAC first started cheer and dance as an invitational sport about five years ago, said Commissioner Corey Westra.

“It came on as an invitational sport because of the growth,” Westra said. “It was an emerging sport in the NAIA, and our schools started adding it pretty quickly, so we went the invitational route much like we did with wrestling. It was an invitational sport for several years before we had a championship.”

Last year was the first year cheer and dance were recognized as championship competition sports in the GPAC. Westra said several more teams have been added this year, including the College of St. Mary in Omaha and affiliate member University of Jamestown in Jamestown, N.D., which officially joins the conference next year.

College of St. Mary sophomore Kiah Shaw said this first year has been a lot of learning for the team.

“We’ve been working a lot of technical stuff, building strength and team unity,” Shaw said. “It’s been a lot of growth and making new traditions, like what are we going to do before we perform. Do we pray or chant?”

Additionally, the team has been creating routines including both its competition dance and those used at basketball games and other events.

College of St. Mary finished in seventh of nine places in the dance competition.

This was also the first year for Northwestern College competitor Nicole Koertner, who danced from third grade through her senior year of high school before sitting out her freshman year of college.

“Then when I got here I watched the dance team my freshman year and said, ‘I have to be a part of that,’ ” said Koertner, whose college is in Orange City, Iowa. “It’s been really fun. I really, really love competing. I just like the adrenaline of everything.”

Teammate Sarah Coppock, who performed at the GPAC championships in 2017, said she loves being able to perform with her team, doing something she loves.

“I’ve done it since I was 3 years old, so I’ve fallen in love with being able to perform,” she said.

Westra attributes the great crowds at the competition each year to the families who are used to following their sons and daughters through years of competitions.

“It’s always been a good crowd,” he said. “These people are used to traveling and going to competitions. Most have been doing it for many years with their kids. It translates definitely into today. It’s been fun to watch that as well, a lot of energy in the room.”

Watching from the sidelines and helping behind the scenes this year was redshirt Hastings College cheer member Khylie Williams.

“I’m just helping out, making sure the teams get to where they need to be on time,” Williams said.

After performing with the team at the championships in 2017, Williams said seeing the competition from the other side has been really exciting, as well.

“I feel like last year I got to see what it was like to be on the mat and this year I see the other side,” she said. “Seeing both sides of it is crazy. These teams really do work hard all day every day on routines. I give them credit.”

Saturday’s event was only a conference event. Teams will have the opportunity to qualify for national competition later this month.