Best in show: Starettes jazz team finishes first at home invite

The Monti jazz team finished first at their home invite this past weekend, scoring 343 points. The victory gave the Starettes three first-place finishes this season. (File photo)
The Monti jazz team finished first at their home invite this past weekend, scoring 343 points. The victory gave the Starettes three first-place finishes this season. (File photo)

The Monticello dance team hosted its annual invite this past Saturday, with the largest field in its history – 14 total teams to be exact.
The field has gotten bigger and bigger in recent years, and included a number of strong programs this year.
But if the Starettes continue to treat them the way they have the last two years, they may not keep coming back.
For the second straight year, Monti took home the meet championship in jazz. The Starettes jazz team, which has been outstanding all year, continued to sparkle on Saturday, setting the pace for the field with a season-high 343 points. Monti finished first on each of the five judges’ scorecards. Albany (315 points) finished second, while North Branch (312 points) was third.
The kick team turned in one of its best performances of the year as well, scoring 287 points and placing eighth in a strong kick field.
All in all, it was a great (if long) day.
Dancers started arriving to MHS at 6:30 Saturday morning, and were there until the awards ceremony at 4:30 p.m. In between fans came in throngs, packing the MHS Fieldhouse and providing a tremendous atmosphere for the girls last meet of the regular season.
“It was really awesome to have a really big home crowd,” said senior captain Emily Dahlke. “[Plus] the amount of teams that came brought in so many people that the crowd was just like full the whole time.”
Payton Wik, another senior captain on the team, said the Starettes were inspired by the size and energy of the crowd.
“We feed off of the crowd’s energy. Their energy gives us energy,” she said. “It just made us that much stronger and that much more passionate on the floor.”
Big crowd notwithstanding, the girls said there is also just something special about being at home.
“The home invite is always our favorite competition of the year,” said Dahlke. “It’s a great way to end the season.”
Wik added that it allows the girls to show community members how much hard work they’ve put into their routines.
And Coach Sarah Dummer said there is just something about seeing the girls capture first place that makes it a lot more relatable to fans than when they hear about it happening at an away meet.
“We can come back and we can tell our fans that, ‘hey we placed first last night,’” said Dummer. “But it just doesn’t have the effect unless they’re actually standing in the stands and watching our excitement when we hear our name being announced.”
This was the third time this season that the Starettes jazz team heard its name called to come and grab the first-place trophy at the end of the meet. Last year it happened twice. Before that, Monti was close. The Starettes finished second at the Monti Invite when this group of seniors were in their sophomore year, and third the year prior to that.
The seniors said that being part of, and seeing that progression has been great.
“We’ve grown as a team and we’ve gotten even better,” said senior Brooke Lenneman. “It’s cool to see how much we’ve improved since the beginning of our high school career.”
Samantha Ziwicki, the team’s third captain, concurred.
“I think we could all agree that this team has come so far,” she said. “Not only our skill level – obviously as you keep doing something you’re going to get better at it – but I think as a team we’ve gotten closer, we’ve tripled our size, but I think we’re closer than we’ve ever been. That is, I think, the most important thing.”
One of the things that has made Monti successful this season, particularly in jazz, is buying into the choreography and routine that was drawn up by Wik, Dahlke and Ziwicki.
“The rest of our teammates have taken the choreography we gave them and fell in love with it and became passionate, and [they] just take the dance as their own,” said Dahlke.
Dummer agreed, saying they’ve become so attached to it that a couple of girls who danced it for the final time at the invite were in tears following the meet.
“They just love it,” she said.
While the kick team hasn’t garnered the accolades of the jazz team, they wrapped up a successful regular season on Saturday as well. The 287 points marked the third-best score of the season for the girls.
Wik acknowledged that the team has had its ups and downs, noting Monti is a strong studio team, whereas kick requires more precision, but said the Starettes have really adapted to the choreography well.
Lenneman agreed, saying that Monti continued to improve throughout the year, while constantly making tweaks to the routine.
“It always looks better each time, and our scores continue to improve,” she said.
Dummer added that Saturday was “a very good routine for us.”
A lot of responsibility for the good performance on Saturday, and one of the most successful seasons in recent history for the Starettes dance program, falls back on the senior class.
Lenneman, Wik, Dahlke, and Ziwicki are joined by Taylor Arthur and Emma Sandberg as varsity seniors for Monti. Dummer said that it has been an absolutely tremendous group to have as upperclassmen during the past two years, her first as head coach of the Starettes.
“They’ve been leaders, they’ve been choreographers, they’ve been strong dancers. They’ve inspired a lot of the younger girls, they’ve inspired their own team, they’ve inspired each other,” she said. “They’re leaving knowing that they’ve created this [legacy]. They’re leaving behind a really strong history. They’ll look back on that and they’ll love that forever.”
But before they look back, they have at least one more meet to look forward to. This Saturday, Monti will roll into the Section 2AA Tournament with a nice little confidence boost that only a good prior outing can provide. That feeling counters the disappointment from a couple of weeks ago when the Starettes found out their section would only get two jazz entries to the state meet, rather than three. Benilde St. Margaret’s and Totino-Grace are the heavy favorites for those two spots, while Chisago Lakes and Monti figure to do battle for third place.
“We’re still going to try our best,” said Wik. “And aim for third place, and show them that if they were to take three teams, Monticello would be that third team.”
Plus, the seniors, as well as the whole squad, would like to end the season with a bang.
“We also want to end our season with the best performance of our dance that has ever happened,” said Dahlke. “I think we can really end on a high note.”
The Section 2AA Tournament is scheduled for this Saturday, at North Branch. The jazz competition begins at 11 a.m., and kick competition is scheduled to start at 12:45 p.m. Awards are scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]