This year’s Ponte Vedra High School Splash Dance Team is regarded as one of the best squads in the nation following a top 10 finish at the National Dance Alliance High School Nationals competition.
The Sharks competed in three categories, placing 10th in both palm and gameday and 11th in jazz during the event held March 4-6.
According to head coach Brandi Ahmad, it was the first time Ponte Vedra had competed at the NDA Nationals, and joined other St. Johns County schools, such as Nease and St. Augustine, who they competed against in the same categories.
Ahmad was amazed at the respect that the programs had for each other, especially when Nease had wrapped up their routine and went over to help cheer on the Sharks during theirs.
“It’s pretty cool to have that type of comradery and to see that support,” Ahmad said. “It definitely helped my girls in their performance.”
This is the fifth year the Sharks are competing on the national stage.
“It’s amazing they have already done so much,” Ahmad said. “We have only up to go from here. They are the closest team I’ve had, and they are super hard working.”
As part of the competition, the Sharks went head-to-head against some of the most talented dance programs in the nation, which meant the margins for error were very small and it was the definition of a competitive environment.
An example of that is the fact that the Sharks just missed advancing to three finals after finishing 0.6 points shy of advancing to the finals in jazz as well.
Going into the event Ahmad had a sense after watching them perform throughout the year that this year’s group seemed strongest in palm and gameday, so she made the call to focus on those at nationals.
As a result, the group competed in palm for the first time at nationals, instead of in the traditional category of hip hop.
“They’re really good at showcasing their strong technical skills,” Ahmad said. “I felt palm just fit the makeup of this team more.”
Unlike the palm and jazz portions of the event, where teams got to compete twice, Gameday differed because it was a true one-and-done performance scenario.
The fact that the group stood strong in the face of that pressure and were not shaken is something Ahmad is proud of.
“We laid it all out on the line,” Ahmad said. “We were not expecting this, because we went up against teams that have won in the past.”
One of the things that made the Sharks stand out was the choice they made with their music, by playing “We Will Rock You” during the routine instead of the common hip-hop arrangements.
“We like to play to our crowd, and we chose to do just that,” Ahmad said.
Helping to get the team focused on the task at hand throughout the year was senior captains Lola Newman and Mandy Hansgen, who will be attending Auburn University and Florida State University, respectively next fall.
“It’s been amazing to see these kids grow,” Ahmad said.
Hansgen tore her ACL about a month into the school year but remained a presence with her leadership by attending events and being there for her teammates even though she was no longer able to compete.
“She has been our team inspiration this year,” Ahmad said.
Part of that leadership includes passing the love of competitive dance to the next generation.
The team will do this by hosting its inaugural summer camp June 13-15, which is being put on after the annual Splashette camp in the fall was such a hit.