“We’re State Champs, back-to-back, baby!”

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Celeste Ayala-Gomez, Halli Davis, Cambree Young and Allie Sanchez Mackey perform their Warrior-themed Jazz routine at 2024 State Spirit in Casper. The Classics defended their state title, and finished runners-up in the Hip-Hop Dance category. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

Classics repeat in Jazz Dance; take 2nd in Hip-Hop

CASPER — On the long drive back to Evanston Saturday morning, Candice Spivey — head coach of the Evanston High School Classics dancers — said she was struck by what she was hearing from her team at the back of the bus.

Silence.

After all, this was a team that had just repeated as 3A Jazz Dance State Champions the day before, and — due to some rotten luck (more on that later) — came within a point or two of doing the same in 3A Hip-Hop. That her usually boisterous crew was silent — especially in the wake of their recent accomplishments — was, indeed, odd. But not unexpected, given the hour.

Nor would it last, much to the delight of the adults on the bus.

“Our main goal was to get home and perform for our home crowd at Saturday’s games, so we loaded the bus at 7 a.m.,” Spivey said, chuckling at the memory. “For the first hour and 45 minutes, it was quiet — the girls just slept, and kind of recharged. From there, it was go time — hair and makeup on the bus, lots of music, lots of chatter, lots of screaming, ‘We’re State Champions, back-to-back, baby!’ There was a lot of singing and cheering — it was really great.”

The 2024 State Spirit competition in Casper was a rollercoaster for the EHS Classics, who managed to run the gamut of emotions in a single afternoon. The defending State Jazz and Hip-Hop Champions wowed the crowd at the Ford Wyoming Center with their Warrior-themed Jazz routine, repeating as State Champions with a score of 79.030, well ahead of runner-up Powell (71.340).

The Classics were unable to complete the sweep, however, finishing runner-up in Hip-Hop to Green River by 2.45 points. An injury to Classic member Kya Coles in the minutes leading up to the start of the Hip-Hop routine — coupled with a timing penalty assessed after the fact — contributed to the adversity the team was forced to deal with, though Spivey said her team handled that adversity like the champions they are.

“It’s a bit of a bittersweet moment for us — I’m incredibly proud of the hard work and dedication that the girls put forth this season,” she said. “I’m incredibly proud of the way they performed and competed at State. It’s bitter, in the sense of the injury we saw just before Hip-Hop, losing one of our teammates, as well as a penalty we were assessed, that no one can really explain to me — that’s a little frustrating. But at the end of the day, looking at the big picture, there’s nothing more we could have done. I appreciate the way the girls rallied around their teammate, and left everything they had out on that floor.”

Back-to-Back Champs

For senior captain Allie Sanchez-Mackey, winning a second state title in Jazz Dance was  a surreal experience.

“To be named back to back state champions is something that not a lot of people can say they’ve done,” she said. “I am just so proud of how far the Classics have come. I think as a whole, our main goal for the year was not to be named state champions; it was to go out and put everything we had on that floor, and that’s what we did. That’s why we won – we put everything we had on the floor, and we’re a family that works as one.”

Fellow captain Addi Asay agreed.

“With the bar being set last year as State Champions, we all wanted to prove that we could keep that momentum going and defend our title,” Asay said. “We knew we had to work hard. Our season goes all year with early morning practices, camps in the summer and several weeks of two-a-day practices to prepare for State. So to earn a State title two years in a row is amazing, and what we work so hard for.”

It’s become a Classics tradition, according to Spivey, that each year’s Jazz routine has a theme. This year’s theme was “Warriors,” an idea the team embraced as defending champions.

“Warriors was something I’ve had in mind for a couple of years, and this year, it just had more meaning — we’re a tribe, we have each other’s backs,” Spivey explained. “We had to go out and fight for this title, so it just made sense. We hired a choreographer who taught us the routine, and she really gave us the freedom to do what we wanted with it, implement our own style. It turned out to be something far more than we ever expected.”

That’s not to say it was a winning routine from the start. The Classics were still making adjustments as recently as a few weeks ago, after some less-than-stellar feedback following a performance in Bountiful, Utah.

“We competed in Bountiful two weeks prior to state, and we weren’t happy with our feedback,” Spivey said. “The Jazz routine that everyone got to see at state wasn’t the same as the one we had two weeks ago. We were ready for war, that was our theme going in. We knew we had a target on our backs, so we had to embody that theme. We knew we had to go out there and fight for that state title, and the girls did all of that, and then some.”

The final product was something those in attendance won’t soon forget, nor will the judges, who awarded the Classics with the championship trophy.

“What I will remember most about State Spirit this year is how I felt after our Jazz routine,” Asay said. “The energy in the event center was awesome. I really felt like we nailed it. It was an amazing feeling.”

Overcoming adversity

After putting on the performance of their lives with their Jazz routine, the Classics were gearing up to do the same in the Hip-Hop category. As the defending champs — and the team slated to perform first — Spivey said she knew the team had their work cut out for them.

“Going first in a field of eight teams is hard, because you have to set the tone,” she said. “We knew Green River was going to be our biggest competition — we’ve spent a lot of time with that team, attending the same camps and performing together. Our coaching staffs are close, as are the teams. We knew it would be a fight.”

As the team warmed up in preparation, disaster struck, and the Classics were forced to adjust on the fly, while at the same time dealing with the loss of a teammate due to injury.

“We were in our four-minute practice rotation, and we had changed our ending pose,” Spivey said. “When Kya Coles did the last drop, she came up to me and said her knee was hurting. She had a previous surgery a couple of years ago, and was not able to dance with us last year because of it — I was worried she had reinjured that leg.”

Lo and behold, it was Coles’ other leg this time around, and after being evaluated by a trainer, it was determined she had an MCL sprain.

Senior co-captain Halli Davis said the team rallied around each other at that point, though the idea of performing without Coles was tough.

“Losing a teammate right before we performed was something I never would have imagined happening,” Davis said. “When it did, all we could do was go out and perform…We wanted to show the judges that even if there was someone missing, we could still give an amazing performance. That we were able to do that shows who we are as a team. It showed the love we all have for each other, and we were so proud of the performance we gave.”

A season — and team — to remember

With another year in the books, Spivey said she and the team will take a bit to enjoy the moment, then start looking ahead to next season. She’ll have some talented seniors to replace — including captains Davis and Sanchez-Mackey — though junior co-captain Asay will return, along with a host of dancers with state experience. But each year’s team is unique, and this year’s will be hard to top.

“Our captains this season are some of the most incredible leaders I’ve ever met,” Spivey said. “They’re super-talented and super-driven, and really are the heart and soul of the team. Alli is a solid leader, through and through — her energy is unrivaled in practices, and she never settles for less than what we want. Halli is just a beautiful technician — she just gets the world of dance, she understands it. Her eye on choreography — or changes we need to make — is irreplaceable, it really is. Addi Asay — she brings the fun and the quirkiness to it, but also sets the tone for our underclassmen. She really relates to these girls, and embraces these underclassmen, to make them feel like part of the team. When you put all three together, they really are a dynamic unit. It’s something that will be hard to find again, but I know Addi will continue to be a strong force next year for our leadership team.”

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