The University of St. Thomas Dance Team placed first in the Open Division Hip Hop category at the Universal Dance Association College Nationals in Orlando, Florida, Jan. 17 and 18, earning its ninth national championship since 2006 and its second consecutive win in hip hop. The team also placed second in the Open Division Jazz category.

Although the team had previous consecutive jazz category wins in 2012, 2013 and 2014, this year marked the first time the Tommies earned back-to-back titles in hip hop. “This year being our first back-to-back title in hip hop was meaningful for us because we’ve been wanting for so long to prove to ourselves that we are an extremely versatile team,” said head coach Alysia Ulfers. “It’s affirmation that we really can master two completely different skill sets (jazz and hip hop) and remain consistent.”

USTDThiphopWatch the Tommies’ 1st place hip hop routine, choreographed by Shandon Perez.

Watch the Tommies’ 1st runner up jazz routine, choreographed by Dani Eustice.

The road to nationals was not without its challenges. According to senior captain Julia Randall, injuries became an issue in the days leading up to the competition. “Our biggest challenge this year, hands down, was injuries,” Randall said.

The winning hip hop routine was the most difficult in the program’s history, according to Ulfers. “We committed ourselves to the more difficult tricks and skills to not only outdo ourselves but to show the competition that we’re willing to go to the next level,” she said. “When you up the ante, the risk of injuries increases and unfortunately for us, we did have a few in the last week of practice before nationals that took two of our athletes out.”

Despite the challenges, Ulfers feels the team was the most prepared it has been during her time as coach. “This year was the best showing we’ve ever had at nationals,” she said. “Our routines were the most difficult we’ve ever put out at nationals … I couldn’t be more proud.” This is Ulfers’ 11th year with the team.

Dance team practices begin in the weeks prior to the start of fall semester. The months of preparation allowed the Tommies to overcome adversity and made for a memorable experience as the awards were given out, according to Randall. “We all came together as a team and and were beaming with pride. The outcome to awards didn’t matter at that point,” she said. “What mattered was the feeling and joy we had dancing all together one last time and having the time of out lives.”

The team’s success has brought notoriety to the university on a national scale, according to Ulfers. “We take pride in representing the University of St. Thomas at the national level and, win or not, we always leave nationals feeling more proud to be Tommies.”

Team members (pictured at the top of the page) include: Row 1: Morgan McGowan (junior, captain), Julia Randall (senior, captain), Annie Lindberg (senior, captain), Samantha Grover (senior), Whitney Nelson (senior), Jackie Schneider (junior). Row 2: Alex Brown (junior), Kelly Olson (junior, captain), Chloe Setter (junior), Megan Kaveney (sophomore). Row 3: Ari Vasquez (junior), Hanna Brown (junior), Sydney Borchert (junior), Mikayla Larson (sophomore), Chloe Gilbreth (freshman). Row 4: Eve Byron (junior), Madison Adams (freshman), Anne Vitale (freshman), Drew Geck (freshman), Hailey Nerison (freshman).

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