Head Coach: Mandi Maser (5th year); 2020 GPAC Cheer Coach of the Year
2020 GPAC Finish: 6th/11
2020 NAIA Northwest Finish: 4th/10
2021 Captains: Haleigh Fitzsimmons (Jr.); Michelle Porath (Sr./Student Coach)
2020 All-GPAC: Katie Anderson (Honorable Mention)
On the eve of competition season, the Concordia University Dance team carries a new level of confidence thanks to the way it finished up 2020. Head Coach Mandi Maser’s squad experienced a breakthrough in placing fourth at the 2020 NAIA Northwest Regional Qualifier. The improvement shown late last season is something the Bulldogs could build upon as they returned to practice after New Year’s.
Team captains Haleigh Fitzsimmons (Lincoln, Neb.) and Michelle Porath (Lexington, Neb.) will be leaders for a squad on the rise. There are hopes of placing in the top two of the GPAC this winter.
“The returners and our new freshmen built on that momentum from regionals,” Maser said. “After the preliminaries we were sitting sixth and then bumped up to fourth and really improved score-wise. They showed the competitive edge they are capable of performing with. This year we started with that edge and are starting at an already high level.”
The closing stretch of last season also included a dual victory over Hastings and a sixth-place finish at the GPAC Championships. A Lincoln Lutheran High School alum, Fitzsimmons has seen the growth of the program first hand. She and Porath will be tasked by Maser with helping to bring along the younger athletes on the roster. Porath is serving as a student coach, but she can also jump into competition as needed.
The Bulldogs also welcome back sophomore Katie Anderson, an honorable mention All-GPAC performer last season. In addition, there are plenty of new faces for a team with six freshmen, five of whom are from the state of Nebraska. They have entered a program with steadily rising expectations.
“We want to be in a better position at the start of the season than we were last season,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’ve been working really hard last semester and in the offseason. I think that momentum from last year has helped us to be 10 times more prepared at this point than we have been in years past, and it’s very evident from performances in practice. We’re in a really good position.”
Maser calls Porath a “strong, talented dancer” and someone with a “voice for teaching.” Meanwhile, Fitzsimmons took it upon herself to get to know the new team members while serving as a welcoming presence. Says Maser, “She’s really come into her own and found her voice as a leader.”
Some member of the community may already know something about freshman Avery Lewis, a Seward High School graduate. Maser is excited about the potential of Lewis, who figures to make an immediate impact on competition days.
For a sports program still fairly young on the competitive side of things, Concordia seems to beginning to turn a corner. In order to maximize the results in competition, the Bulldogs will have to leverage both their talent and chemistry.
Says Fitzsimmons, “I think Coach has really recruited some amazing dancers – not only amazing dancers, but amazing teammates to come together. The community that we’ve built is full of hard work and dedication. A lot of it is what we do outside of the gym and outside of performance. It takes a lot of personal weight lifting, training and doing stuff on your own for the better of the team. Just looking at our endurance levels, our passion for what we’re headed towards and our positive attitudes, it’s very different, especially from my freshman year. It’s cool to see that every dancer who is competing is doing it because they want to.”
More and more young athletes seem to be interested in competing in cheer and dance at the collegiate level. The official NAIA Cheer and Dance National Championship is now in its fifth year. Unfortunately, the 2020 event was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The popularity of cheer and dance is increasing all the time,” Maser said. “More people are paying attention to it with the NAIA recognizing it as a full sport. Athletes are looking at it as an opportunity to compete and get scholarships to do it. Having trainers, strength and conditioning and all of that dedicated to our sport helps validate it and increases our competitive edge. Our level of talent has improved a lot and we enjoy having the chance to travel and compete against other teams outside the GPAC.”
Concordia will go head-to-head with Mount Marty in a dual on Wednesday (Jan. 13) to open up the season. The Bulldogs will also host Morningside on Saturday with the dance competition taking place inside Friedrich Arena (halftime of the women’s basketball game). The Concordia Invitational Tournament has been canceled for 2021, but the program is looking forward to a unique opportunity to compete at the Friends University Day of Duals on Jan. 23. Other notable events include the Concordia Cheer & Dance Invitational on Feb. 6 and the GPAC Cheer & Dance Championships (hosted by Doane) on Feb. 26-27.