The Ellsworth dance team has a year of competing under their belt, and they're hungry to continue to improve in their 2017-2018 season.
Last year, the Panthers finished third in the Middle Border Conference, placed fifth at their regionals competition, and the team's poms routine took 12th in the Division 4 pom routine of the Wisconsin Association of Cheer/Pom Coaches State Dance competition held Feb. 4, 2017 in La Crosse. The Panthers were pleased with this finish that capped off their first year of competing since 2010, but have higher expectations for the upcoming winter season.
"They were awesome, and worked really hard," co-volunteer head coach Sarah Harrington said about Ellsworth's performance in their first competitive season since 2010. "They were pioneers in bringing the program back, and it was really successful and well-received by the community. [The community was] happy we brought the program back."
"We just wanted it for these girls," McHardy said about bringing back the dance team. "There's a lot of talent in Ellsworth, and if they didn't have this, they wouldn't be able to [dance]."
To help cover team expenses, the team puts on a youth clinic for younger kids in the community. This year, 79 kids signed up for dance clinic the team held.
"There's a lot of interest and support," Harrington said.
Last year's team was made up of nine dancers, but after a year of showing the community what their team is all about, the Panthers have seen an increase in tryout numbers for the 2017-2018 season. Fifteen girls tried out for the team and 11 made the cut.
"When something starts, you don't know if it's going to be good," Maggie Harrington, co-captain of the team and daughter of Sarah, said. "But then people saw how fun and successful we were, and more people were like, 'I could do that.'"
Ellsworth will not only compete in pom and jazz this season, but they'll also add a hip hop routine to their winter season's choreography. McHardy said this is partially due to the team's larger numbers and last year's success.
The team's fall season began in August and consisted of performing their routines at football games.
"People liked seeing us perform at halftime of the football games," Maggie said.
"People would come up to me after seeing the girls perform and say, 'They're so good,'" McHardy added. "They're so impressed and look forward to halftime because it's entertaining now."
Maggie and her co-captain, Alyssa Pechacek who's also McHardy's daughter, said that they think the football and basketball players appreciate that they're at their games cheering and supporting their teams.
"I'm always about spreading the spirit of Ellsworth," McHardy said. "So the support from teams is really cool."
The Panthers enjoyed their fall season, but the dancers are now in competition mode, which Maggie and Pechacek describe as being "more intense."
The Panthers currently practice twice a week during their winter season and learn choreography on the weekends in order to prepare for their first competition on Dec. 2. Ellsworth's dancers will have to spend even more time memorizing their routines this year with the addition of a hip hop routine, but the girls are up for the challenge.
The two captains said their team will need to put in extra time outside of practice to finish higher at state this year than last, but because of their enthusiasm and passion for dance, they don't see this requirement as a burden.
Along with memorizing choreography, the Panthers rely on a strong team bond to perform to the best of their ability.
"It's the most important part," McHardy said about team bonding. "We're one big team."
"It's cool because we're not all the same age," Maggie said, "but dance makes us all best friends."
Sarah said the team's motto is "One team, one dream," because that's the only way you can be successful in dance.
As one team, the Panthers' one dream is to qualify for state in both pom and hip hop.
"Our goal is just to do better for ourselves," Maggie said.
"We want to improve and beat what we did last year," Pechacek added.