It's easy to overlook the Prescott dance team's success; winning has become a regular trend for the dance squad. But that success isn't handed to the team on a silver, or in this case, gold platter just because of the school's history of being pom and jazz champions. The Cardinals' dance success comes from a large commitment to perfecting their routines by making dance a top priority.
During the team's winter season, dancers practice four times a week for a total of eight hours. On top of that, most members of the dance team also dance for studios in the surrounding area. During the limited amount of time when they're not dancing, they still have to make room for schoolwork.
"We don't know anything different than always being busy," Madison Dorau, one of Prescott's seven senior captains, said.
Most of the girls have been dancing and dealing with managing hectic schedules throughout their childhoods.
Dorau's mother signed her up for dance at a young age to keep her busy, and she ended up enjoying dance and decided to stick with it.
Madison Hoikka's mother danced for Prescott, and said that she signed her up for dance when she was 2 years old.
"I just kind of grew up with it," the senior co-captain said.
A third co-captain, Emma Carlson, started her dance career at Helmer Dance Studio in Hudson and said, "All my life I've just been looking up to the older girls that danced on the Prescott dance team, and I knew that's what I wanted to do when I got into high school."
This admiration of high school dancers along with the program's numerous achievements have led to 15 dancers coming out for the 2017-2018 winter team, creating one of Prescott's largest dance teams.
"Success of the program builds morale," head dance coach Samantha Schoen said. "Young dancers look up to the current members of the dance team and say 'I want to do that when I'm older.'"
Schoen, a former Prescott dancer herself, remembers that when she was young she had the Prescott dance team's poster hung up in her room.
"There's an aura built around the program," Schoen said.
Jaci Kosin, Prescott dance trailblazer, former head coach, and member of the Wisconsin Association of Cheer/Pom Coaches (WACPC) hall of fame, played a large part in building up Prescott dance's legacy that Schoen hopes to carry on.
Schoen is a 2013 Prescott graduate, and was a member of the 2010-2011 PHS dance team — the last team to take first in both pom and jazz competitions, what the team calls winning "double."
The Prescott alumna began her coaching career during her sophomore year of college at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul. Schoen worked as an assistant coach under the direction of her former coach and Prescott dance legend Tristina Timm, and took over as head coach once Timm retired from her coaching position in 2015.
The third-year head coach works from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at RISE Inc. in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, then heads to Prescott for practice from 3:30-5:30 p.m. four times a week.
Some would crumble with an 11-hour schedule like Schoen's, but she makes it work and is happy to do so.
"I would do anything for my kids," Schoen said of her dance team. "Once I arrive at practice, that's the good part of my day. I love my job, and work is great, but if it's a stressful day, seeing the team relieves my stress."
Similar to Schoen, her dancers view practice as a stress reliever, too.
"Once we get into practice, we don't really think about the stresses of school or life at home," Carlson added. "When we're there, we're there to practice our dances and to bond with each other."
Schoen instills this mindset in her dancers with a reoccurring theme that she introduced to the dance team when she started coaching: "famILY," which stands for "Forget about me, I Love You."
"It's just a constant reminder that this isn't about yourself. You're not dancing by yourself out there, you're dancing with your whole team," Schoen said.
The dance coach picked up the catchphrase from her college alma mater's football team and thought that it was perfect for her girls, too.
"Sometimes you do need to forget about what you're going through, how bad your day was, and just be a part of your team and be in the present," Schoen explained.
When the team is able to follow "famILY," they're able to mesh and come together as one tight-knit group, which is crucial for any dance team.
"Dancing on the floor as one is hard if you don't have a tight bond," Hoikka said. "But when you're bonded super well, that's when it really all comes together and the emotion really pours out."
Unlike most athletes, dancers only have two to three minutes to prove themselves during competitions, and if just one dancer makes a tiny mistake during a routine, a team's chances at impressing their judges can be completely tarnished.
"Everyone is going all out for two minutes straight, and if you make a mistake, that's it," Schoen explained. "In basketball or volleyball—not saying one is easier or harder than the other—but if someone messes up, you have time to make up for that. In dance you don't."
"We don't get a definite score, it's all opinion-based," Carlson added. "One judge could not like our style, and that could ruin the whole outcome. Some people don't understand that, and that's frustrating."
Despite how supportive the Prescott community is of their dance team, many people who aren't familiar with dance have a lot of misconceptions about the sport.
"People definitely think that it's easy," Dorau said. "People think we just twirl around and move our arms, but they don't see all the hard work that we put into it. People just assume that we're going to win and be successful because we've won so many times, but they don't understand that we have to keep working and improving to be the best."
Some may wonder how the dance team can continue to improve when they're already at the top, but Schoen and her dancers know there's no room for complacency in their program.
"You can never stop improving," Schoen said. "The day you think 'I'm not going to dance in college, I'm good enough I'm never going to be better,' that's defeating the purpose of being on the team and being the best person that you can be."
"Each year there are new surprises, new rules, new teams," Carlson said. "You just can't be satisfied with how good you were the last day at practice. We just have to keep getting better and better. Otherwise we're not going to reach our goals."
"Everyone on the team has to want it," Dorau added. "Otherwise it's not going to happen. We want to keep that title. It's not easy to keep, so we have to keep working for it."
Last season, Prescott's winter team claimed the jazz title but took second in pom, which was an improvement from Schoen's first year of coaching, but the dance coach hopes to come away with two first-place finishes at the end of her third year as head coach. With seven senior captains who Schoen describes as being passionate, determined and dance-oriented their whole lives, Schoen likes her team's "double" chances.
"It'll be a hit when we lose seven seniors next year," Schoen said. "I'm embracing and using them as much as I can this year to make it the best year that they can have."
"Obviously we have the goal of winning double, but as long as we all go out there and do our best every single time and keep bonding, then I think it'll be the best year I've ever had," Hoikka said.
"This is our passion, being dancers and showing Prescott and the state of Wisconsin who we are," Carlson said.
The dance team showed off their skills throughout the fall during halftime performances at Prescott football games, but is now transitioning into their winter competition season, which will kick off at the Menomonie Dance Classic on Dec. 2. In Menomonie, Prescott will toss their Carolina-styled fall outfits to the side and present their winter theme of "Fire Burns Brighter in the Dark."
From there, the Prescott dancers will travel to Little Chute, hold the conference competition in their own gym, head to Wausau for regionals, then—if history repeats itself—return to the WACPC state dance championships in La Crosse.
The season will be capped off with a trip to Florida where the team will perform their fall routines alongside the marching band, but Schoen isn't ready to think about the end quite yet.
"I'm looking forward to spending every second with [the team], Schoen said. "I'm already dreading the day that it's going to end, but I try not to think about it. I have a special place in my heart for this group of kids."
With the time that she has left with her seven seniors, Schoen will turn to Kosin's passed-down coaching methods to teach her girls how to be strong women, take care of themselves, and be leaders — lessons that Schoen said can't be taught in school, but only through dance.