By: John Kaywood
The Sacred Heart University dance team participated in the 2018 National Cheer Association (NCA) & National Dance Association (NDA) Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship in Daytona, Fla. The event took place from April 5-7, and the team finished eighth.
The eighth-place finish in the finals came after a performance in the sudden elimination Challenge Cup. This was the third time in a row that the Pioneers won the Challenge Cup to get into the finals.
Coach Deirdre Eller-Hennessey, who is in her 19th year at Sacred Heart, began the tradition of participating in Daytona based competition. Eller-Hennessey had full confidence in her group to get the job done.
“My three captains were just unbelievable, from the start of preseason to football then to basketball and all the way through the competition,” said Eller-Hennessey. “They were supportive, encouraging and just had the focus of a team mentality.”
The leadership by the three captains and rest of the veteran leaders played a pivotal role. The team traveled with 26 dancers to Daytona, 13 of whom had never participated in the event. The stress and anxiety of the Challenge Cup and overall tournament itself can be a bit daunting for the newcomers.
“It was difficult not going straight through to finals but we had strong confidence going into Challenge Cup,” said senior captain Monique Cote. “As captains, it is our job to lead the team in the right direction, no matter what the situation is.”
The Pioneers edged out Northeast Conference rival Bryant University 8.562-8.560, in the Challenge Cup. The routine was filled with passion and ignited the crowd. It also did not go unnoticed by the judges.
“Overall the routine is fun and energetic, and as the judges mentioned in saying, ‘you can tell that you love this dance,’ we were happy to see that our message and love for this dance was portrayed to the audience,” said senior captain Marina Muscarella.
The song that led them to a trophy was “Tribe” by Kim Viera, a tune from the movie “Pitch Perfect Three”.
The Pioneers had to shoot for perfection on the main stage called the Bandshell, which is an outdoor venue that holds a crowd of 7,000.
Due to some setbacks and difficult circumstances, the Pioneers were challenged right up until National Championship week in Daytona.
“Our biggest obstacle as a team this year was definitely the amount of injuries we had to deal with throughout the season. We had very few full-team practices, making practices much more difficult,” said senior captain Marissa Gavilan. “We have had multiple concussions, shoulder injuries, hip injuries, and the list goes on.”
The team did not travel with a trainer to Daytona for the competition, so most of the recovery and pre-routine preparation was done in-house.
Along with the injuries and lack of a training staff, finding the time to rest and re-energize in Daytona was tough to come by as well.
“We start each day with hair and makeup around 5:30, and its nonstop from there between practice time and our performances,” said Cote. “We don’t have much (time), but that hour or so that we have for some days is the only time we really have to rest physically and mentally.”
The Pioneers had other achievements during the week in addition to their overall placing in the finals.
“Coming home with two trophies along with fourth place in the hip-hop category, we knew all the hard work paid off,” said Muscarella.
Many of the Pioneers’ supporters travelled to Daytona and helped fill the stands during competitions and provide support throughout the week.
“We have almost 80 people traveling down with us, be it parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, grandparents,” said Eller-Hennessey. “It’s become a second family for a lot of people.