Pioneers dance to 4th-place finish at second-ever NAIA Nationals

Two-year program makes successful national contest debut

Photo by Briana Nicole Walton
The competitive dance team performs its competition routine at the Point Park Cheer and Dance Showcase on Feb. 18 in the Student Center Gym. The team made its national competition debut last weekend.

Written By Dara Collins, Co-Sports Editor

The competitive dance team placed fourth in the second annual NAIA Competitive Cheer and Dance National Championships in Oklahoma City, Okla. last Saturday.

“I’m really proud of how we performed,” junior Kenny Sickles said. “We made some last minute changes on Monday and Tuesday before we flew out on Thursday, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out. But all the girls stepped up, and we couldn’t have done much better.”

Point Park was one of 12 teams to perform at the national competition after receiving an at-large bid at the NAIA Northwest Regional Qualifying Tournament on Feb. 23.

The Pioneers competed in the preliminary round on March 9 and scored 82.16, putting them in fourth place. The team suffered only one deduction and thrived in hip-hop, choreography and degree of difficulty in addition to team turns and team leaps.

Point Park improved in the final round, scoring 86.5 with no deductions. The team received high marks in team turns and team leaps, and judges deemed performance impression faultless.

“That was the best time we’ve performed,” sophomore Emily Kirsch said. “Friday was good and Saturday was even better than that. Our technique was there the whole season, but our energy was a lot higher.”

The preliminary score made up 25-percent of the Pioneers’ total score while the final score counts for the remaining 75-percent.

Point Park closed out its nationals debut with a score of 85.42 and finished fourth in the competition, less than a tenth of a point behind third place 2017 champion Midland.

“Our overall national performance was rewarding,” sophomore Kimberly Keagy said. “We had been preparing all season for that moment, and when it came, we left it all on the floor. We made a name for ourselves.”

The overall score was the team’s second-highest of the season. The Pioneers top score of the season came from the Saints Showdown at Aquinas (Mich.) College on Feb. 4 where they recorded 89.66.

St. Ambrose (Iowa) took the gold with 89.21, host Oklahoma City placed second with 88.71 and Midland claimed third with 85.45.

“It was [a] really good competition for us only being in our second year,” Sickles said. “I think we shocked a lot of people. People didn’t really know who Point Park was, but they know now.”

In addition to a national trophy, the dance team’s three seniors ended their careers with personal victories. Deanna Harris finished with an All-American honor and honorable mention. Darian Leighty earned two honorable mentions, and Amber Mole received her first honorable mention honors this season.

“They were a big part of our team, and without them, we wouldn’t have made it where we did,” Kirsch said.

NAIA All-Americans Kirsch and Sickles will return for the 2018-2019 season. Kirsch looks forward to competing and improving the team.

“We have some people who are lower on technique and other people that are really high, so I think focusing on that will help us a lot,” Kirsch said.

Sickles hopes tryouts for the upcoming season will find hard working and dedicated dancers to pave another road to nationals.