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Dukettes step it up like never before
Dance team becomes national champions
DAYTONA BEACH, FL.- It was a big, new step for the Dukettes. For the first time, the dance team brought a national championship title home to James Madison University.
This past Tuesday, the Dukettes as well as the Cheerleading teams traveled through the night to Daytona, Florida for the 2015 National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) and National Dance Alliance (NDA) Collegiate Championships. The 22 dancers on the Dukettes team were cheered on and supported by coaches, directors of the program, parents, and families, as they competed in the championship round Friday. According to Head Coach, Julia Urban, the goal of this year was to continue advancing the team, hoping to improve the 3rd place title they had won in previous years. Moving into a new division, the team was rather skeptical about what the judges were looking for, and how their competition would match-up in comparison. But, despite the nerves, the team's confidence level was peaking. Not only that, but this year's team’s energy and precision was unparalleled to that of any other group in the new collegiate level division.
"Their success is attributed to their coaching philosophy. The environment is what the coaches contribute, and it's the students that collaborate and work with one another. That chemistry results in something great.""We had a great exhibition performance with the JMU community at the Convocation Center last Saturday, and we felt really successful and ready," explained Head Coach, Julia Urban. "I told the girls that I've never felt more prepared to bring a team to Florida than I had this year."
As soon as the Dukettes arrived in Florida on Wednesday morning, they headed straight to their hotel rooms for a few hours of restful downtime, then quickly moved into an official rehearsal. "We ran through everything feeling great, but still knowing that we had a few areas to improve, so we worked on those. But we all felt incredibly excited and ready to showcase the routine on Thursday," said Urban.
There were 27 other competitive groups that were fighting for the first-place title in the Open Dance category of Division I. Thursday evening, the Dukettes finished their prelims with a score of 9.522, placing just short of the team above them. Out of those 27 groups, they placed second. Just in the prelims alone, the Dukettes set a record for the highest score in the team’s history.
After receiving paper copies of the judge's feedback from the prelims, and watching the video of their performance, the team went into a mission-critical practice Thursday night where they began hashing out the areas where the judges recommended improvements. Urban described that practice as "remarkable."
"We were in second place at that point, and all we could do was move up. Everyone worked hard [Thursday] night, and I was just so overwhelmed that it brought me to tears watching the team come together," Urban recalled. "At one moment, I had to just step back because they were really connecting as a team, and it was very emotional for me to watch it because they all had the exact same mindset of what they wanted--to continue to improve themselves, not thinking about the other teams, but rather about our program and what we had achieved already. They stepped out on the floor Friday knowing that they had to work for what they wanted. And they did it."
During the final competition on Friday, 14 teams fought to defend the championship title. The Dukettes scored an exemplary 9.696, a significant victory over second place finalist Utah Valley (9.571). Chad Reep, Assistant Director of Athletic Bands, was among the hundreds of audience members nervously awaiting the results over the previous two days of prelims and finals. "Since they've been down here, their attitude has been incredible. They are so supportive of one another, and help each other out," Reep explained. "Jumping to the score that they did is impressive, but I know how hard they work. And to see it pay off is a great feeling."
Scott Rikkers, Director of the Marching Royal Dukes, was thrilled to share in the excitement of a national title, but he was not at all surprised. Rikkers explained, "Their success is attributed to their coaching philosophy. The environment is what the coaches contribute, and it's the students that collaborate and work with one another. That chemistry results in something great."
"It's all very surreal, especially considering that it is the first time in JMU history that we've placed first," said Senior captain, Gabbie Henwood. "We have never felt as close with one another, and there is something incredibly special about performing with this team. In my four years of dancing here, I've never felt the way I felt after dancing that final routine. There is no way to describe it."
"We took a huge risk moving into a new division, but you just need to believe in yourself after you take a leap of faith," senior captain, Devan Weismiller described. "We just trusted, motivated, and encouraged each other. It always pays off."
Henwood and Weismiller finished by adding, "We just really want to say thank you for the tremendous amount of support we've received the whole way. It's what pushes us to do what we do. It's what keep us motivated to spread our passion for JMU, cheer for our sports teams, and support our school. We all feel so loved, and so lucky to be apart of this awesome university."
Congratulations on your national title, Dukettes. The entire JMU Nation is incredibly inspired by your accomplishments.
By Chase Maszle ('17), JMU Athletic Bands
Published April 11, 2015
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