By Shannon Miller
This January 2019, the dance team will head to Disney World for the Universal Dance Association (UDA) national championship.
The team is competing in three categories: Game Day, Jazz, and Pom. Although the competition requires them to train hard and stay focused, the dancers remain committed to their roles as spirit ambassadors for the university.
The dancers are thrilled to be competing in Orlando at ESPN Wide World of Sports. This is a huge accomplishment after the tough season they experienced last year. “We were coachless for half the season last year, and we were run by captains,” Lauren Juchem, a sophomore on the team, said. “The three of them did a really great job of keeping the program alive.”
Juniors Kaitlyn Ulrich and Marina Kilkenny, are the team’s captains for the second year in a row. Both girls danced at nationals during their freshman and sophomore years.
The team’s biggest fan and supporter is their new coach, Tiffany King. She filled the vacant position in December 2017, just before last year’s nationals. “This year I get to bring them to where I competed in college, and we get to work on two incredibly difficult routines that really showcase not only, you know, pretty faces and pom poms, but [rather] technique and what they’ve worked so hard for since they were five,” King said.
Performing at nationals requires high-energy and endurance. The team holds two practices and a 6 a.m. workout every week, and they are planning to add a third practice on the weekends.
“We do a team mile on the track above the gym. We add drills to it like Indian runs and lunges,” Juchem said. Kilkenny described the workouts as, “a half-hour on the track and a half-hour in the weight room.” On top of practicing for nationals, the girls are rehearsing for half-time and spirit performances.
Due to the recent announcement about NCAA division changes, football is one of two remaining sports at LIU that showcase the dancers on the sidelines and during half-time. This will be the team’s last year competing in the open division which includes Divisions II and III and community colleges. In 2020, they will move up to Division I, going head-to-head with neighboring universities such as Hofstra, Stony Brook and St. John’s.
The team members welcome the challenge, saying they can do anything if they do it together. “I’ve never been closer with any other team I’ve been on,” Alexa Stefanidis, a sophomore team member, said. Ulrich agreed, saying, “I think it [the team] gives you a stable family that you have throughout your years at the school. So, you always have a friendship, and you get to do what you love [with them].”
Kayla Braccio, a freshman team member, isn’t letting the division changes keep her down. She’s excited for her next three years on the team and is looking forward to welcoming new family members each year. “I think nationals will be a really nice reward for that [division changes]. Plus, we get to perform at Disney, and who doesn’t want to perform at Disney?” Kilkenny said.