GCU spirit on display in Dance team’s national title
By Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
Each dancers’ hair was carefully braided in a lengthy process before the long flight to Florida. Makeup was deftly applied, loose rhinestones were re-glued, hair pieces were attached, bodies were stretched and after that six-hour process, the lights came on, the music started and the Grand Canyon University Dance team captured the national championship in Game Day performance.
The synchronized dance steps and flawless spin moves in time with the seven-member drum line gave the judges and fans in Florida a small taste of the super-charged atmosphere at GCU Arena as the Lopes Dance team showed that no one pumps up a crowd with more energy and precision moves than GCU.
“It is pretty exciting and super humbling,’’ said Dance team coach Jacque Genung-Koch. “Fun would be the word I would use because we got the chance to do what we do at home, on a national stage. It was exciting to bring what we are, who we are at GCU, for other teams to see and for a judging panel.’’
In a sign of GCU’s growing presence on a national stage, the Dance team finished runner-up on Sunday in its other event, Division I Jazz, at the Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships at Orlando, Fla., conducted by the UCA (Universal Cheer Association) and UDA (Universal Dance Association) at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
That finish, behind Utah Valley, was their second-highest finish ever, behind their title on Friday in Game Day.
In the first event, the national-championship Game Day effort, GCU was the only program to include a mascot, Thunder, and its seven-person drum line (one snare, two tenor and four bass) guided by Band Director Paul Koch, the husband of Jacque. They played a song called “The Best Groove Ever,’’ and the dancers also moved to the prerecorded school fight song performed by the entire band.
“Fans were amazed by our Game Day routine,’’ Genung-Koch said. “And I told them, we would love for you to come out and see all of us together; not just the drum line but the full band, with Cheer, with the student section (Havocs). This is just a teeny, tiny part of what we do at GCU.’’
The standing ovation from the crowd was gratifying.
“I kept having to do a little reality check that this was all happening,’’ Genung-Koch said. “It is fun to have other people recognize that this is kind of a special and exciting thing that we have. Now that they’ve seen a school do it with a drum line, I would assume other schools will want to do it as well, which puts us in the same boat for next year. What is the next step for us, how do we do what we do bigger and better?’’
McKenna Ross, the Dance captain for nationals, said she developed a strong feeling about her team since tryouts last May.
“I could tell this would be a special group and we would work together well,’’ she said. “Seeing it unfold, seeing such hard work pay off for this group of girls has been amazing. We are such a sisterhood, we are a family and it is crazy how close we all are.’’
Dance team members who stayed behind to perform at the men’s basketball games last week at GCU Arena met their brethren at Sky Harbor Airport when they returned from Orlando on Monday night.
“It so special they were able to come,’’ she said.
The Dance team also was supported by parents and siblings who attended the event and those who watched on the internet and ESPN3, along with students who offered congratulations via social media.
“It is an amazing feeling,’’ Ross said. “We were so proud of each other. To show our Game Day experience on a national stage was very special.’’
According to Genung-Koch, the team set three goals for nationals and reached each one. The first goal was to have productive practices – efforts that were measured by self-evaluation. Second, the team strove to finish in the top 25 percent in the Game Day competition. Third, the team was determined to improve on its fourth-place 2018 finish in the Jazz competition — with the runner-up effort — that box was checked, too.
“That was a nerve-wracking goal,’’ Genung-Koch said. “To place second and beat our own goal was pretty exciting, and the team (Utah Valley) that placed higher than us in jazz was phenomenal. They were gorgeous. It was their first time competing, and we were so excited for them to win because they were amazing. So to place second to what we saw them win with was also pretty exciting. When we were announced as second, I thought we won the lottery.’’
As Ross noted, the judges were looking for intricate and synchronized dance steps in the jazz routine.
“We are all able to match each other’s movements,’’ she said. “We had a difficult turn sequence; it took lots and lots of practice to synchronize it. At first it was rough, but then it became super synchronized to all move together in the same way. That is what the judges look for.’’
As with all performances, the team relied on their faith.
Ross said, “We say how proud we are of each other and we say a final prayer that we want our light to shine. We want to show God’s work through us. Then it was a special moment: all together, all holding hands and walking out on the stage together.’’
That togetherness showed through, along with hard work, en route to a championship and a runner-up finish in the Dance team’s most successful national tournament ever.
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].