Head Coach: Mandi Maser (7th year); 2020 GPAC Cheer Coach of the Year
2022 GPAC Finishes: Cheer 4th/8 | Dance 6th/9
2022 NAIA Northwest Finishes: Cheer 4th/8 | Dance 7th/10
There were some ups and downs experienced in 2022 for Concordia University Competitive Dance, which produced scores that ranged from 55.9 to a season best of 72.90. The Bulldogs wound up placing seventh at the GPAC Championships/NAIA Qualifier. That placement fell below the program’s expectations, but that disappointment hasn’t deterred excitement for the 2023 season. There’s a belief that if things fall into place, Concordia could contend for a spot at the NAIA National Championships.
This will be year seven for Mandi Maser as head coach of the program. Maser oversaw the program’s transition into status as an official varsity sport and has brought about a rise in talent year after year.
“They are building themselves up to be a really solid technical team,” Maser said. “They’re a great sisterhood of individuals that really support each other on and off the dance floor. They have grown together quite a bit and have made us proud to have this program. They conduct themselves in a wonderful way all the time. They do a great job academically, spiritually and competitively. They have really improved a lot. A lot of people have taken notice of how clean and professional they all look.”
Maser’s 2023 roster includes six athletes (out of eight) who competed at last year's conference/regional championship event. Foremost among those returnees is senior Katie (Anderson) Birtell, who has been a constant in the lineup over the previous three years. She’ll be joined on the floor by the likes of Aubrey Baumann, Kenna Holtzen, Avery Lewis, Lizbeth Vargas-Tapia and Maddie Wittstruck.
Maser discussed the leadership Birtell will provide once again. In addition, Madison Koch has been influential as a student coach. Madison shares some of the coaching skills of her brother Grady, who works on Concordia’s football staff.
“Katie has done a great job and has always been technically sound,” Maser said. “She’s always been a very steady, level-headed leader since being a freshman. She does things by action, working hard and doing things the way it needs to be done. Madi Koch is another one. She’s a student-coach and has worked to be a really valuable assistant coach. She’s done an amazing job and will make an amazing coach someday wherever she goes as a teacher.”
The veterans on the team have welcomed in talented freshmen like Ryleigh Flesner, Taylor Larsen and Elise O’Neill. Each of them figure to be regulars on the competition floor this winter. Whether a multi-year veteran or a rookie, all Bulldogs are working on mastering a new routine.
Said Birtell, “This year we have a different choreographer. She brought a little bit different style to the table and I think it fits our team super well. This routine is a lot more high-energy than last year and I think we have the potential to do better with it. It’s a matter of conditioning and getting our technique correct. I think we have a lot potential for this season.”
At last season's conference championship/qualifier, three schools posted scores in the 80s. Concordia understands it must raise its level to push those elite squads in the Midwest. As Maser said of the conference, “It’s quite dominant. Especially on the dance side, the GPAC is very tough. Every competition is tough when you’re always going up against GPAC teams. We’re blessed to have that because it pushes you to get better and better.”
The good news is that the Bulldogs still have some time before having to put things all together. The top four teams at last year’s GPAC/NAIA Qualifier were Morningside, Viterbo and Midland. The Mustangs went on to capture the national championship. That’s the type of competition Concordia is up against. Birtell and company are ready to put themselves to the test.
“I think this team has the highest potential I’ve seen from the past four years,” Birtell said. “We have three good freshmen on our competition team, and they get along with us very well. It’s a very good team dynamic. We come to practice ready to work, and we’re very encouraging of each other. This season, we can definitely score the highest we ever have. I have high expectations.”
Said Maser, “(Coach) Emilie (Ashenbach) and I have really devoted ourselves to building Concordia up to be national contenders for both cheer and dance. We continue to work hard for that every single practice. We are really hoping to get there, and these kids deserve to have that experience. I want them to be able to say they were the first teams to be able to do that for competitive cheer and dance at Concordia.”
The competition season will get started on Jan. 11 when the Bulldogs will host College of Saint Mary in conjunction with basketball that evening. The program is looking forward to CIT coming up on Jan. 28 and is excited to host the Concordia Duals (featuring 14 total institutions) on Feb. 11. The complete schedule can be found HERE.