College Dance Team Central

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lion Line Takes First Place

Lindenwood's dance team competed for title in January

By Rachel Kaatmann
St. Charles Journal

Five, six, seven, eight the Lion Line has won first place.

After her first year as coach, Colleen Carriker and her dance team at Lindenwood University are celebrating their first victory as national champions of the Universal Cheer Association/Universal Dance Association College Championships, held in January at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

The competition attracted more than 100 university cheerleading and dance teams from across the U.S. and was televised on ESPN. The Lion Line was named open class champions in the hip-hop division."We knew it was a first place dance," said senior Whitney Agers, team captain. "It was fun when we got back to the airport; everyone was there with signs and balloons. There are so many sports and activities at Lindenwood, but winning a national championship has gotten us recognized."

Formed in 1992, Lindenwood's dance teams - the Lionettes, the performance group, and the Lion Line, the competitive group - are a major part of the university's spirit and attend each football and basketball game.

Former dance coach Brenda Parisi, now an assistant principal at Francis Howell North High School, helped form the team. Since then, when not cheering at sporting events, the team has vied for the top title at the national championships.

Carriker, once a Lindenwood dance team member, started out as an assistant coach before being named the head coach when Parisi left her position last year.

"As any transition year from one coach to the next, we hit some rough spots along the way. These girls overcame a lot of obstacles and adversity to get where we are now, national champions," Carriker said. "They never stopped believing in each other. They were so focused and determined when we were at nationals."

But getting there wasn't a cake walk. The team normally trains Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays for about four hours each day. For nationals, they practiced in the months prior for an additional four hours every Sunday, and the week of the competition they practiced for three hours every morning.

To become a member, each dancer is selected through an audition process. The process includes attending one of Lindenwood's dance clinics, learning and being judged on the school fight song, performing jazz combination and hip-hop combination dances, and an interview with the coaching staff.

"I set aside time for team bonding, such as team building, so the girls didn't get burned out on the routines or each other," Carriker said.

Agers said she joined Lindenwood's dance team because she knew about the team's national reputation and wanted to be on ESPN one day.

For the nationals performance, the team hired Toya Ambrose, a dance coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago, one of two choreographers. Agers said this year the team wanted to hire the choreographers who had previously coached first place dances in the major divisions, the hip-hop open dance divisions.

"I decided before the trip that I was not going to tell the girls how they ranked, fearing that if they placed high in semi-finals, that they would feel the pressure of remaining in a top spot and not perform as well in finals," Carriker said. "After semis, they were ranked first but only a few points ahead of 2007's champion, Orange Coast College from Costa Mesa, Calif. Only myself and my captain, Whitney, knew that we were only one performance away from a national title. I told the girls that they needed to do exactly what they did in finals but better."

For many girls, such as Agers, who have danced since they were small, winning a national championship was a lifelong dream.

"After they performed, I knew they won," Carriker said. "I didn't tell them that, but I knew it with all my heart. The girls nailed it ... their energy was amazing, formations were right on, synchronization was impeccable. I can honestly say that I have never watched a routine and been more certain that it was going to win."

For next season, Carriker said she'd love to see her team defend their title and win in the open dance division.

"I have already started planning and recruiting for next season and have some of the most talented dancers coming to Lindenwood from the St. Louis area, Kansas City area and Illinois," she said. "We are going to have a strong team next year."

2007-08 Lindenwood Lion Line dance team

Whitney Agers, senior, of Desloge
Mary Bartlett, senior, of St. Charles
Krista Blankenship, freshman, of Florissant
Terra Busch, junior, of St. Charles
Lauren Chastain, freshman, of Millstadt, Ill.
Brooke Crider, junior, of O'Fallon
Brittany Gammon, junior, of St. Charles
Casey Garr, junior, of Columbia
Brooke Hoepfner, junior, of Fenton
Stefanie Hruby, senior, of Maryland Heights
Jessica Jacob, sophomore, of Columbia
Erin Kay, sophomore, of Florissant
Angela Koehler, junior, of O'Fallon
Emma McDaniel, freshman, of St. Charles
Brigette Michael, freshman, of Highland, Ill.
Lindsay Nenninger, senior, of Webster Groves
Kim O'Brien, junior, of St. Charles
Leah Shipley, sophomore, of Florissant
Kimberly Williams, senior, of Junction City, Kan.