Head Coach: Mandi Maser (6th year); 2020 GPAC Cheer Coach of the Year
2021 GPAC Finishes: Cheer 4th/7 | Dance 4th/9
2021 NAIA Northwest Finishes: Cheer 4th/7 | Dance 5th/10
Momentum continues to build for Concordia University Dance following a 2021 season of major gains. There’s a desire for even more in 2022 as the Bulldogs are well underway in their preparation for the upcoming competition season. According to those within the program, the talent and dedication on this roster have made the Bulldogs confident in making another step forward this winter.
Last season featured placements of second at both the Friends Day of Duals and the annual Concordia Invite. In addition, Concordia earned four dual wins over GPAC opponents and placed fourth in the GPAC and fifth in the NAIA Northwest Region. Head Coach Mandi Maser has a roster of athletes with a strong belief in themselves.
“It was about being transparent and explaining how scoring works and showing them on paper what it takes to elevate their competitive edge to get that score,” Maser said. “We wanted to make them understand that they had the skills. Now let’s execute them at a higher level with more dedication, more hours of practice and more strength training. That’s how you get to where you’re going to excel. They all decided they were going to do it. They all bought into it. It’s awesome to see everyone on board. They dedicate themselves more than any athletes I’ve ever coached. They’re devoted to it – and they have fun doing it.”
There will be plenty of familiarity on the roster as the Bulldogs welcome back six of the seven athletes who competed at the 2021 GPAC Championships/NAIA Northwest Qualifier. Maser has the utmost trust in veterans such as Katie Anderson (Columbus, Neb.) and Haleigh Fitzsimmons (Lincoln, Neb.), who have as much competition experience as anyone. Fitzsimmons has provided steady leadership and is well-respected by her teammates.
Other returners who competed at the regional championships last year include Kenna Holtzen, Avery Lewis, Lizbeth Vargas-Tapia and Maddie Wittstruck. Collectively, they helped Concordia post an average team score of 74.76 at the conference/regional qualifier. The Bulldogs were within striking distance of finishing as high as third place in the GPAC.
“We’re working on so many different skills that my freshman and sophomore year we never would have dreamed of,” Fitzsimmons said. “That’s always really exciting when we can do more advanced technical routines right out of the gate. We have some really cool tricks in our routine that I’ve never done before, that our coach introduced to us. Everyone’s been hitting it and pushing to get better at it. The routine’s looking pretty cool. We’re starting at a higher level of intensity and skillset than my entire time I’ve been here.”
Maser and assistant coach Emilie Aschenbach, a two-time cheer All-American at Midland, are appreciative of the efforts and attitudes they observe every day at practice. Team camaraderie is another essential piece in terms of building a program that can compete for championships.
Said Maser, “Haleigh is our leader but it’s a sisterhood of girls who are so supportive of each other all the time. From a technical skills perspective, Katie Anderson is excellent at everything she does. We have a new freshman who is also great at her technique. We have a great blend of hard-working athletes. They elevate each other to make a really solid team. They know it’s not an individual sport at all. They are there for each other all the time.”
Fitzsimmons wants to soak up her final season with Concordia Dance. She knows she’s going to miss it when it’s gone. “All the girls are amazing,” Fitzsimmons said. “They’re making this last year really hard to say goodbye to. They’re funny and they’re super smart and they care not just about their athletic performance, but their academic performance. They’re big inspirations for me. They make every time we go into the gym an awesome memory.”
The Bulldogs know the competition will be fierce. The spectacle and the skill level within the GPAC have ramped up. Within the conference, Concordia will have its sights set on the three teams that placed above it in 2021: Morningside, Midland and Doane.
Said Maser, “I feel like the GPAC sets a standard in the NAIA for an elite level of competitiveness. We’re also quite respectful of each other. Every single team that’s watching is cheering you on. We know it’s good for our sport to constantly build each other up. Not only do we want to preserve the sport, we want to keep drawing people into it. We have a tough conference. It’s really a challenge to compete in our own backyard.”
The season will officially kick off on Jan. 19 when the Bulldogs will host Morningside in a conference dual. The action is slated to begin at halftime of the women’s basketball game that night (tipoff at 6 p.m.) and take place inside Friedrich Arena. Concordia also looks forward to hosting its day of duals on Feb. 19 and competing at the GPAC/regional qualifier on Feb. 25-26.