The William Blount dance time placed first in the national championship on Saturday in Connelly Springs, North Carolina. The Lady Governors won regional and state titles to qualify for the competition. Front row (L to R) Alyssa Nuchols, Taylor Bonovich and Elizabeth Robinson. Second row (L to R) Jennifer Thorne, Ashley Cummings and Star Moon. Back row (L to R) Jr. Coach Hailey Huffman, Head Coach Amber Young and Asst. Coach Rachel McCurry.

The William Blount dance team’s season got off to a rocky start.

It ended in historic fashion, though.

After placing last in their first competition, the Lady Governors went on to win their first national championship last weekend at the DMA National Dance and Twirling Championships on Saturday at East Burke High School in Connelly Springs, North Carolina. It’s the first time William Blount has ever qualified for that stage, and it did so by winning regional and state titles.

That trio of championships didn’t appear in the cards early. Coach Amber Young said the team was discouraged after kicking off the season by finishing fifth out of five teams at the TVA&I Fair cheer and dance competition. Some of Lady Govs were new to dance at the time.

“I was like, ‘Hey, that’s OK, we still have all year,'” said Young, who has been coaching the squad for 18 seasons. “I don’t have words sometimes to describe how proud of them I am for their hard work and their dedication. They did this.”

Assistant coach Rachel McCurry-Foster said the turning point happened after winter break when the Lady Govs returned to action as “a new team.” It wasn’t until competing in the DMA regional championship that they began to realize their potential.

“We went to regionals as a team just thinking, ‘Cool, we’ll go to a competition, show them what it’s like, come home and say, ‘Yay, we did it,’” McCurry-Foster said. “There was no plan of going past regionals.”

That is, until William Blount won the regional title. A judge reached out to the team afterward about competing at the highest possible level.

“One of the judges was like, ‘Hey, your team has the energy and what it takes to be at nationals,” William Blount dancer Elizabeth Robinson said. “That was kind of a ‘Woah, step back’ moment for us to reevaluate, ‘Can we do this?’ And so we started working. We worked really hard to be where we are.”

Young said the difference maker was the team’s heart and determination. Recent William Blount graduates Star Moon and Ashley Cummings continued practicing with the Lady Govs all summer in order to compete with them at nationals.

“They wanted this so badly, you could feel it. Their spirit had changed,” Young said. “So we said, ‘We’re not going to stop at regionals, we’re not going to stop at state. We’re going all the way.”

William Blount placed first among 30 teams in the national championship, performing hip hop and jazz routines.

It was a nerve-racking ordeal for some such as Taylor Bonovich. In jest, she said she contemplated leaving moments before the team took the stage for the first time.

“Then we get out there and the music starts playing, and I was like, ‘Oh man, I can’t turn around now,’” Bonovich said. “Everybody started cheering for us and smiling, and I wasn’t worried anymore.”

Young said this season’s team has a special bond that grew during trying times. Jennifer Thorne went through multiple deaths in her family over the course of the season. She said her teammates were there to support her.

“It was really hard but, everybody together, we worked through it,” Thorne said. “It’s like a family. With everything going on, I’ve accomplished so much. This first place — it means a lot.”

Follow @TaylorVortherms on Twitter for more from sports reporter Taylor Vortherms.

Sports Writer

Taylor is a University of Missouri graduate, who worked in Maine covering sports before moving to Maryville in 2018.

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