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Liberty Middle School Dance Team's Remarkable Journey to State Success

Liberty Middle School Dance Team's Remarkable Journey to State Success

In their inaugural year, the Liberty Middle School dance team defied expectation, clinching a remarkable third-place finish at the Illinois Drill Team Association (IDTA) State Dance Competition last month. 

Under the direction of coaches Samantha Van Etten and Alison Bragee, the Panthers set their sights on qualifying for state at the beginning of the season, a goal swiftly achieved. 

“I had high hopes from the beginning,” said Van Etten. “I think our girls had a lot of raw talent and we were focused on making that look cohesive. I wasn’t surprised when we pulled it off, but I was extremely proud because they worked so hard.”

Liberty qualified for state in its first regional competition, something that doesn’t typically happen. 

“You have to hit a certain number of points and we hit that right out of the gate at the Belleville East Regional competition,” said Van Etten. “That’s when the girls really had the confidence that they could do this.”

Competing against a field of over 100 teams at state, Liberty continued to impress. 

“It was a new experience for every girl to be on that type of floor and they just really rose to the occasion, and it was the best performance of the year. We were very proud of them to walk away with third place,” Van Etten said. 

Their achievement also caught the attention from parents and spectators from other competing schools. 

“There were a lot of parents from the first and second place teams sitting amongst our parents, and they were asking who is Liberty Middle School and where did these girls come from, so that was a really good feeling,” said Van Etten. 

While there were many proud moments throughout the season, Van Etten and Bragee were particularly impressed by the team’s willingness to embrace new experiences. 

“Every single milestone we encountered this year was new for them,” said Van Etten. The regional competition was our first time competing as a team and as a school ever. We also had our first basketball game performance, our first House Day performance, and of course, our first state competition. It was all new and they took it all in stride.”

Despite many of the team members being studio dancers, the transition to team dance was seamless. 

“It’s a completely different experience when you get to represent your school,” Van Etten said. “I think the sky is the limit with these girls. They are good scholarly athletes as well and it speaks volumes to them to balance school, a team sport and studio dance.” 

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