This year marks the 8th annual section preview, dating back even before there were public scores and a mnhsdanceteam.com website. It amazes me sometimes what my love of fantasy drafting my state line-up each year turned into! I must admit I don’t participate in any “draft” groups anymore – I usually have a leg up on the competition that might be a bit unfair. After all, I entered all 2,500 of your scores one at a time so I’ve been following along pretty closely.
Looking back on this year it’s been a bit of a wild ride wouldn’t you say? I am sure we’re going to see some post-season surprises between the new scoresheet, teams who haven’t been competing much in January, and the various distractions that cropped up this year. Round 1 kicks off on Saturday and I’ve put together my annual just-for-fun guide. It always comes down to that day’s performances and the judging panel that day – so keep all this in perspective and enjoy the ride. Let the speculation begin! Good luck to all the teams who advance as well as have their last performance of the year.
Section 4A: Wadena High School
The northern A division gets us started as the lone class A meet this weekend. Loving or hating going on the early weekend varies from team to team, but I find it to be pretty impressive when class A teams can be 100% ready on this weekend. Section 4 manages to get it together each time. In the jazz division, Frazee is leading the pack out in front score-wise with a chance for some interesting results behind. Aitkin, Crosby Ironton, and Duluth Marshall are the usual suspects here, but I’ve been listening to the buzz building up behind DGF as they make a quest for state. On the kick side: Aitkin and Frazee are building up to a classic battle that has gotten more exciting in the last 3 years. Frazee’s “Hamilton” dance is really unique vs. Aitkin bringing Phantom of the Opera to life with their always amazing kicks. Bagley, Pelican Rapids, and Crosby are on the watch list for medals. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Bagley at state, so they’re hungry.
Section 2AA: Big Lake High School
Section 2 is one of the most predictable outcomes of the weekend if for no other reason than both Totino Grace and Benilde St. Margarets are such strong programs this year (and every year). Who gets 1 or 2 is really the biggest issue year after year, especially in jazz. This year however I’ll be watching kick results too since BSM keeps getting better and better technically, while TG’s choreography in recent years has been setting them apart from the pack. Look for these 2 to use the scoresheet differently, and effectively. The hunt for #3 is between Chisago Lakes, North Branch, Duluth Denfeld, and Zimmerman who could all pull something together and make a run. Last year these guys didn’t get a 3rd jazz spot to state so the energy will be high in 2018.
Section 3AA: Waconia High School
One of my favorites to watch on this weekend will be the oh-so-tight section 3 matchup. The depth and consistent quality of teams here is worth noting. In the kick division, Orono and Mound Westonka have been flip flopping 1st places lately and will want to end up on top this time around. The closest teams to follow only have a single point between them, so Marshall, Hutchinson, and Waconia will be pushing hard to break in the top 3. The jazz division features the same grouping with Mound Westonka showing the best late season score so far. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Waconia at state, and never in jazz, so this could be a major shakeup if they make it.
Section 4AA: Alexandria High School
Section 4AA moves to Alex this year and I think that bodes well for the status quo to change. The departure of Sauk Rapids up to AAA means the picture here includes some new faces. Sartell stays strong this year with Rocori securely in the hunt. The biggest guess will be what to do with St. Cloud Cathedral when Pequot Lakes, St. Cloud Apollo, Alexandria, and Monticello are making moves in the kick and jazz divisions around them. If Cathedral was in the Central Lakes Conference with these teams we might know better, but without more head-to-head matches it’s hard to feel confident. Ultimately, the Crusaderettes are a polished program who any contenders will need to be at a new level to take on.
Section 2AAA: Chanhassen High School
The last results of the day will likely come in from the much anticipated and highly lauded section 2AAA. Surviving a season here deserves a medal in itself. Scores on the season composite are misleading – many of these teams have competed little to none the last 3 weeks in January and I think all the top 5 teams have equal footing right now. Wayzata is a safe bet here, they’re having a banner year in both jazz and kick. After that, it’s been interesting watching Maple Grove’s scores jump all over depending on the day and who they’re against. They’ve got a legitimate chance in both styles. Edina jazz is looking strong, and last year’s kick surprise is also a possibility again this year. Here to ruin the fun though is a surging Eden Prairie team who has been consistently getting their act together and making a statement. Wild card in all this is Chaska, who is probably a little stronger in jazz this year than kick, bucking a recent trend. No result here would surprise me, it’s going to be tight.
Section 4AAA: Forest Lake High School
Section 4 has a fresh new look with the addition of some new faces – Sauk Rapids and St. Michael. Sauk Rapids especially looks eager to make good on their #slayAAA mantra this year, especially in kick. Anoka, Forest Lake, Brainerd, St. Cloud Tech and Blaine fill out the top contenders, but things look a bit crowded. Forest Lake hasn’t advanced from section 4, only from section 3 – so they have something to prove this weekend. Brainerd and Tech both have perennial success at the sections level and will not let a point or two on the leaderboard get in the way. Wild card is always Blaine these days with a sneaky improvement over January that sets them up for success in the post season. I’d never count them out either. I’m guessing 5 teams split the hardware this year, somewhat unusual for dance team sections.
See you back here next week for part 2 of our section preview and look for state tournament pages to go live on Sunday! Congratulations to all this weekend’s state qualifiers!