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Blue Angels gear up to soar high at sectionals in Bemidji

Bemidji High School's varsity dance team, the Blue Angels, is ready to showcase its revamped routines this weekend as Bemidji plays host to the 4AA sectional competition for the first time.

The competition begins at noon Saturday, Feb. 12, in Bemidji High School's main gymnasium, with doors opening at 11:15 a.m. The cost is $8 for adults and $5 for students.

The Blue Angels' 21-member dance team has added more challenging tricks to its High Kick Precision and Jazz routines in preparing for the section meet.

"When it comes to section time, this is the big competition, and we're getting ready for state," Blue Angels' head coach Amy Merschman said. "We really have to raise the bar, and we want our scores to go up and to do well."

After cuts were made to the team two weeks ago in preparation for sectionals, 13 girls will compete in Jazz and 12 will compete in High Kick.

Teams competing are Alexandria, Annandale, Bemidji, Detroit Lakes, Melrose Area, New London-Spicer, Pequot Lakes, Rocori, St. Cloud Apollo, St. Cloud Cathedral, Sartell-St. Stephen, Sauk Rapids-Rice and Fergus Falls-Underwood high schools.

The dance teams will compete in two divisions - High Kick Precision and Jazz. Each team will be judged by seven judges. The top three teams in each category will advance to the state tournament Feb. 18-19 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

More than 1,500 people are expected to attend the sectional meet.

The Blue Angels competed in three competitions this season. They also performed halftime shows at high school sporting events.

"Our scores have continually been improving since the beginning of the year," Merschman said.

Merschman expects to see great results from the team at sections, especially since the girls have been practicing six days a weeks for the past two weeks.

"After we made cuts, we started new dance formations," she said. "They made things more difficult to hopefully raise our scores on Saturday. They have been working really hard."

This year's dance team has worked well together, Merschman said. Even the team members who were cut have been actively participating at practices and have helped to prepare the school to host sectionals.

"That's how we build a program," Merschman said. "We are stepping it up and that's how we're going to improve and build the program."

When asked what teams can expect to see when they arrive in Bemidji for the section meet, Merschman said she thinks most teams will arrive with the mentality of underestimating what BHS offers.

"I think they are going to come here and see our awesome facility, which is pretty new compared to some schools," she said.

Assistant varsity coach Hillary Hood said the Blue Angels have added more jumps, more kicks and more challenging transitions to their routines.

"They want to score higher," Hood said. "They are tweaking their transitions in the High Kick dance, which will make people ask, 'How did they do that?'"

The Blue Angels are also coached by junior varsity coach Kayla Schoen.

Merschman said those who attend the sectional competition will be "amazed" to see the skills and talent that Section 4AA dance teams bring to the gym floor.

"We have a really tough section," she added.

The St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaderettes, who claimed their third consecutive state crown in High Kick in 2010, are expected be among the top performers at sectionals this year. St. Cloud Cathedral was the only school to win the state title in both High Kick and Jazz in 2010. It was also the only 2009 state champion to successfully defend its title in the High Kick division. The school claimed its first crown in 2005.

The 2010 Minnesota dance team tournament was the 36th competition held in dance team history, but the 14th tournament under Minnesota State High School League sponsorship. State tournaments were previously conducted by the Minnesota Association of Dancelines, later renamed the Minnesota Association of Dance Teams.

Even if the Blue Angels do not make it to state this year, Merschman said, they will still go to state to watch the teams that made it.

Tenth-grader and co-captain Mariah Moen said the team members have been striving to make their legs kick higher, something the team did not work on as much last year.

"We've been pushing ourselves to drill, which is hard because you get tired after doing so many kicks in a row, over and over," Moen said.

Moen said she will help motivate the team at sections to strive to do the best they can.

"It could be the last time we do these dances, so we just need to give it all we've got and have fun with it," she said.

Eleventh-grader and co-captain Brittany Smith said she hopes to continue to push the girls to stay positive as competitors.

"We've got a really good team this year. I think we're going to do better at sectionals than we did last year," she said. "I want everyone to stay motivated and have a good time."