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Packatahnas hope to continue storied tradition with new head coach

Sophomore Jade Suder, front, dances during a West Fargo Packatahnas practice Dec. 18 at the Lodoen Center. Michael Vosburg / The Pioneer1 / 6
Head coach Shayla Pennick supervises a West Fargo Packatahnas dance team practice Dec. 18 at the Lodoen Center. Michael Vosburg / The Pioneer2 / 6
The West Fargo Packatahnas dance team practices Dec. 18 at the Lodoen Center. Michael Vosburg / The Pioneer3 / 6
Eighth grader Kaely Moran stretches during a West Fargo Packatahnas dance team practice Dec. 18 at the Lodoen Center. Michael Vosburg / The Pioneer4 / 6
The West Fargo Packatahnas dance team practices Dec. 18 at the Lodoen Center. Michael Vosburg / The Pioneer5 / 6
Senior Riley Reichling, center, dances during a West Fargo Packatahnas practice Dec. 18 at the Lodoen Center. Michael Vosburg / The Pioneer6 / 6

Shayla Pennick had already worked with the West Fargo Packatahnas dance team. She was an assistant coach for one year before fulfilling her dream of becoming the Packatahnas head coach.

As a former Packatahnas dancer herself, Pennick knew the expectations and pressures were always going to be high for West Fargo's dance team.

In her first meeting with the team as the head coach, Pennick said those who would stay with the program would have to be dedicated. But again, most of the Packatahnas knew what to expect from their new head coach. They were on board.

After the Universal Dance Association Spirit of America Dance Championship last weekend in Minneapolis, the Packatahnas will compete in the North Dakota Association of Dance and Drill state competitions on Jan. 26 in Grand Forks then the UDA National Dance Team Championship in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 2. At last year's nationals, the Packatahnas took runner-up in the large varsity high kick category, advanced to the semifinals for jazz and received an invite to participate in worlds and received first place.

Pennick believes the Packatahnas could do as well or better this year.

"I told them we are here to accomplish big things," Pennick said. "We aren't just here to get to practice and get through the day. We're here to accomplish dreams and goals."

The Packatahnas have a younger team with only three juniors and three seniors. They also have brought on eighth graders onto the varsity team for the first time ever in the program, Pennick said.

Pennick, who also danced at North Dakota State, wanted the Packatahnas to get a better grasp of the demand of dance as the season went on. She said she's had to rely on her captains and upperclassmen to set the tone for the younger dancers.

Pennick likes to think other teams can't tell how young the Packatahnas are at competitions.

"Just making level-headed girls is a huge thing for me," Pennick said. "They'll learn how to get better and what we have to do to progress. It's all a learning matter."

Senior captain Jayden Halverson said she wouldn't have been prepared for varsity dance in middle school. She doubted if the Packatahnas' eighth graders would be ready, but Halverson has been impressed.

While the younger dancers have had to learn discipline, Halverson said they can hold their own. She doesn't feel the Packatahnas have missed a beat.

"The technique is there," Halverson said. "Everyone seems to be mature enough to handle it."

Junior captain Ellie Gapp said the Packatahnas have grown plenty since the summer when they started practicing. With three-hour practices five days a week until the season ends in February, Gapp said the Packatahnas have to stay focused now that they're on the home stretch of the season.

"We've had to teach them how practice works and the expectations we have," Gapp said. "We have to keep moving forward every day and have the mindset for having that goal."

Halverson believes the Packatahnas still need to improve their body control so they perform as one cohesive unit. If anyone in their routines are a count off, those tiny errors stick out to judges.

"It's an obstacle, but we'll get over it," Halverson said. "We've gotten over so many different things. We just need to work together as a team and get it done."

Gapp said the Packatahnas' strength is their drive to reach their goals at nationals.

"The feeling you get from competing and dancing with your teammates," Gapp said, "it makes you want to come back again."

Pennick said the Packatahnas are still working on communication and timing, but she still has high hopes for this season. The Packatahnas are young, which leads Pennick to believe the future is bright.

"Just to know what our program is going to be like in future years is an amazing feeling," Pennick said. "Once we get the little things down, we'll be great."

Colton Pool

Pool is a reporter for The West Fargo Pioneer covering city sports and community news. He was the sports editor for The Dickinson Press covering Dickinson State athletics, high school athletics and Southwest Speedway. He graduated from North Dakota State with a degree in journalism and a minor in English. You can reach him by phone at 701-451-5715 or tweet him @CPoolReporter. 

(701) 451-5715
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