The Carolina Girls dance team placed No. 1 in the 2021 National Dance Alliance National Team Performance Division IA Finals in Daytona Beach, Florida, on April 9.
The squad is well known among students and fans for their eye-catching performances at Colonial Life Arena and Williams-Brice Stadium. However, preparation was much different for the championship event at Daytona.
The dances for the competition are a lot more athletic and intense, according to senior dancer Paige Ewert, whereas the dances for football and basketball games are more spirit-focused and cheerful.
With only 11 returning members, the Gamecocks entered the 2021 championship with a young group, according to senior dancer Abby Delnoce.
“We had to step up as leaders and make sure that our younger girls were — felt prepared,” Delnoce said.
When the squad arrived in Daytona, they maintained a calm and positive attitude by reminding each other to be confident in their preparation.
"When you get into Daytona, you're kind of feeling every single emotion," Ewert said. "[We were] reminding people that although we're in this super exciting and high-stress environment, we are still so capable of achieving everything that we had just practiced."
When the time came, the team earned 95.8 points on their performance, which set them above the University of Louisville with 94.2 points and Iowa State University with 94.14 points.
“They executed the technical skills. There were a lot of challenging skills that were in that routine,” head coach Lindsay Sprague said. “The cohesiveness of the team off the dance floor really played into their performance on stage. You can tell when a dance team has that unity.”
This is the first national championship the Carolina Girls have won since the team was established in 2007. Under the leadership of Sprague, the team has seen a lot of success over the years.
“I have never been on a team that was more cohesive," Ewert said. "We had been working so hard and working so closely together the past couple months.”
As the virtual awards and team placements were revealed, the team’s internet connection suddenly cut out.
“We all were panicking,” Delnoce said. She said they eventually found out they won through a text message. “It was so weird, but at the same time, it was amazing because we were all together.”
After missing last year’s championship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gamecock dance team was able to return this year and make a historic run.
The team was recognized at Sunday’s home baseball game against Missouri. In addition, Capstone was lit that evening in honor of its outstanding achievement.
“I just couldn’t describe this year other than perfect,” Delnoce said.
Moving forward, the team is preparing to host its 2021-2022 auditions.
"We've got a great group of prospects coming in, and we are just going to keep moving forward and trying to build on what we did this year," Sprague said.