St. Thomas dance team crowned Open Jazz national champions

The St. Thomas dance team was able to do something that no other sports team has been able to do in 2012, and that’s win a national title.

The team competed in the jazz and hip hop categories in the Open Division at the College Cheerleading and Dance Team Championships in Orlando, Fla., becoming the 2012 Open Jazz national champions and the Hip Hop runner-up.

Coach Alysia Ulfers has consistently led the Tommies to first or second place national finishes in her eight years at St. Thomas. The dance team has been nationally ranked since 2004 and has placed third or higher in every competition since then.

This year’s jazz title is the fifth championship won under her leadership.

“We couldn’t really ask for more,” Ulfers said. “Winning was a proud moment for us.”

Ulfers said she strives to be innovative and prepared prior to competition.

“My goals are always just to make the girls feel ready… they can go out there and feel confident,” Ulfers said.

The winning jazz routine was choreographed by former St. Thomas dance team member Rachel Doran.

Sophomore Brittney Schubert said the routine featured extensive group work and layering.

“(It) makes it not just a dance, but a picture that keeps the audience interested,” Schubert said.

Junior captain Samantha Maroney said that teamwork was the squad’s greatest strength.

“We had a lot of new girls on the team,” Maroney said. “As captains, we wanted to bring everyone together as a team.”

Maroney and the other captains worked to build teamwork and cooperation throughout the season in practice and outside of it by spending time together and supporting one another.

Though the team got along well, it still faced its share of obstacles. Ulfers said the greatest challenge the team faces each year is anticipating the improvements in competing teams from across the nation.

“We always have to expect competition to be better and better each year,” Ulfers said.

Schubert said that anticipating tough competition helps the team stay motivated and dedicated.

“We don’t know what they’re going to bring,” Schubert said.

Though winning a national title and gaining national recognition for St. Thomas and the dance team were highlights, Ulfers said the most exciting moment of the competition was knowing “that was the best they had ever done.”

Heidi Enninga can be reached