The Highland High School dance team made the U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington its personal stage as the team repeated as 1A state champions for the first time in school history Saturday at the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Competitive Dance State Finals Competition.
It was Highland’s third 1A state title in the five years dance has been recognized as an IHSA sport. HHS has also earned a podium finish in all five seasons after winning it all in 2014, 2016 and 2017 and taking third in 2013 and 2015.
Highland’s routine, which is its lyrical routine, also received its highest score in the five years of competing at the IHSA State Finals with a 1A-winning final team score of 94.72 points, which was 1.52 points higher than runner-up Morris (93.20) and 2.26 points higher than third-place Genoa-Kingston (92.26).
In addition, HHS was just 0.02 of a point off from the highest individual team score out of all the classes. That honor went to Geneva, which won the 2A state title with a score of 94.74.
“With this being my first year, I cannot tell you enough how much this means to me,” Highland coach Emily Wellen said. “It is the best feeling knowing that all of that hard work has paid off. This title is also special because I wanted this so badly for my team. We are like a family. Everyone is constantly supporting one another and working together. This was a full on team effort. Hearing our school called for first place is just an unreal feeling. I was full of a million different emotions. Our goal this year from the very beginning was to be back-to-back state champions, and we achieved that goal. Words cannot describe how proud I am to coach this team and how proud of this team I am. I am so happy their hard paid off.”
Highland senior captain Ally Becker said it was very gratifying to be a leader of such a prestigious team, but she can’t take all the credit as a captain.
“This year, since I was alone as captain, I hoped for everyone to step up. And at some point, everyone was a leader, and I believe that helped us throughout this whole year,” she said. “Honestly, words can’t describe our performance today and how I feel about all the girls on the team. My freshman year, the captains and the whole team taught me how to be a state champion, and that is exactly what I did this year.”
What made winning the state championship Saturday even more gratifying was that Highland ended up in fifth place in Friday’s prelims after incurring a five-point penalty on a National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) violation for an illegal, unsafe lift.
Highland’s raw team score Friday was the highest in 1A, 2A and 3A at 95.32, but the five-point penalty knocked HHS’ final team score down to fifth place at 90.32.
Wellen said that after receiving the penalty in prelims, the team got back to the hotel and knew exactly what they needed to fix so they concentrated on those key moments.
“Coming back for finals, the team was honestly calm and ready to compete,” she said. “They knew what they had to do, and they performed the routine flawlessly.”
Becker said the penalty, and subsequent fifth-place finish in prelims, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“We worked so hard at practice that night, made our lift legal, and cleaned up our stumbles we had on day one for day two,” Becker said. “On day two, we focused on the five C’s: courage, compassion, confidence, concentration, commitment. We believed these five C-words are what we had to focus on to be state champions once again. We took those five words and went from fifth place to first. Our final score was 94.72. This is the highest score that Highland has ever received at state in the existence of IHSA. This is also the first time Highland has won back-to-back state championships.”
In addition to Becker, the Highland High School dance squad also consists of Kayla Davis, Bree Etherton, Katie Etter, Alexis Finley, Paige Foster, Olivia Genteman, Alana Hollenkamp, Hannah Luitjohan, Kylie McFarland, Claire Pabst, Abigail Rogier, Reagan Thornton and Brooke Wilson.