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The team of 23 girls won in two categories in the highly competitive championships.

COURTESY PHOTO: STEVE MOLIN - Top row (left to right): Sophie Barbour-Weiss, Fiona Joneschild, Terra Carleton, Makayla Carstairs, Wesley Aremandarez, Natalie Klaus, Kayla Livingston, Alexis Wentworth, Hannah Emerson
Middle row (left to right): Natalie Nichols, Morgan Peterson, Katy Villa, Lily Weil, Zoe Schimmel, Layla Ward, Alyssa Rechel, Janelle Neyman, Laci Campbell
Bottom row (left to right): Coach Brandy Fletcher, Senior Captain Abby Christensen, Senior Captain Aubry Corona, Senior Captain Tiffany Young, Senior Captain Kaylinn Gilstrap, Sophomore Captain Sydney Molin, Coach Erika MyrickEver feel like you have two left feet?

Not the Vikettes, the Forest Grove High School dance squad of 23 girls who are now proud to call themselves state champions.

The Vikettes won first place in both the small pom and kick divisions at the Oregon fall state category championships on Saturday, Dec. 1, at West Linn High School, and in the process, they completed what was an undefeated fall dance season.

The Vikettes took first prize in both divisions at preliminary events at both Scappoose and David Douglas high schools in November to qualify for the state championships, and they mopped up the competition in West Linn, capping a season that couldn't have been predicted to start the year.

"We didn't expect this," said Forest Grove co-head coach Brandy Fletcher. "We're very competitive, but I don't think we knew we'd be this successful this year. But everything just kind of fell into place."

Forest Grove has 11 freshmen on its 23-person Vikettes squad, and just four seniors. The captains, seniors Tiffany Young, Aubry Corona, Kaylinn Gilstrap and Abigail Christensen, along with sophomore Sydney Molin, were instrumental in integrating the fresh faces into the team, and with the help of their coaches and a lot of hard work, the Vikettes exceeded even their coaches' expectations at the preliminaries and state competitions.

"Those captains helped build the expectations and standards that we hold ourselves to, and they've really helped facilitate that with the younger girls," Fletcher said. "We have some really experienced kids and some not-so-experienced kids, and with those girls having such strong personalities, coupled with being such strong dancers, they're just great examples and gave us a great opportunity to compete."

While dance is an OSAA-sanctioned sport, this event was run by the Dance and Drill Coaches Association of Oregon, which Fletcher and her co-head coach, Erika Myrick, said provides a stricter and more competitive landscape in which to compete.

"This is the big thing for the fall," Myrick said. "More teams participate in this. The traditional season, you're competing one routine against everyone in a division, while in the fall, we're against everyone, regardless of size or division."

COURTESY PHOTO - Forest Grove's Kaylinn Gilstrap in action at the Fall State Category Championships Saturday, Dec. 1, at West Linn High School.The DDCA fall category championships offers competitions that include the following categories: kick, jazz, contemporary, modern, hip-hop, pom and novelty. In order to qualify to compete in any of the aforementioned categories, a team must place first in a preliminary competition and score at least 68 points in doing so.

"It's definitely not easy to get in," said Myrick.

With such success, you'd think that the members of the Vikettes had been dancing for years. But just a few of them come to Fletcher and Myrick with dance experience, and it's really over time, and through hard work, that all of them are able to come together as a team.

They practice three times per week, usually for three hours, twice in the evening and once at 6 a.m. before school. In addition, most of the girls watch video on their own and work on corrections given to them by the coaches. But Myrick and Fletcher are quick to point to the captains as the reason this group came together so well.

"The seniors set the standard," Fletcher said. "The expectation was set that if we were going to have a successful season, they were going to have to get these girls on track, and they did it."

Fletcher and Myrick — who were Vikettes themselves — own a dance studio in Forest Grove, Studio Ninety8, which focuses primarily on teams. Studio Ninety8 has been open for just over two years, but participation has increased dramatically in that time, and the coaches hope to see that continue as they work towards their goal of providing more opportunity for local kids.

"We didn't think there was a lot of opportunity for kids that danced or wanted to dance in Forest Grove, so we wanted something to provide that," Fletcher said. "As kids go through the program, we want them to be a part of a team."

And will that team be the Vikettes?

"We hope so," both coaches said.

"There used to be 80 kids for tryouts, now we have a third of that. So our goal is to build that back up, and hopefully these championships will help."

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