For the first time in recent history, the Morris competitive dance team has nothing to defend. Normally the Redskins are referred to as the '31-time state champion' pom squad, but this time there seems to be a bit more at stake than ever before.
"It's definitely different. The whole entire process is completely different than what we've ever experienced," Morris coach Becky Struck said. "Usually we're going up against other pom teams or hip-hop teams but right now we're going up against everybody."
It's probably the biggest adjustment for teams that are entering the inaugural IHSA State meet for competitive dance.
"Any team can bring whatever dance they want," Stuck explained. "It doesn't matter if it's pom, hip-hop or a mix of anything. We compete against everybody within our division."
In the past, that is how Team Dance Illinois portioned out its state crowns — by classification and category. The IHSA just has a standard three-class system.
"I think being with the IHSA is more challenging. Only because we really don't know what to expect like in the past," Morris captain Kayla Jackson said. "We are a different division with the IHSA. We're 2A (IHSA) and in TDI we're 1A. Other than that, we know that we just have to work hard and keep our game up and keep going."
Categories judged in the past include pom, kick, lyrical, jazz, hip-hop and other hybrids.
"I've been on poms since my freshman year, so this will be my fourth state. It's a lot different because of the categories," captain Brenna Feeney said. "It's interesting in a way and we've been working our best to compete against the teams that are doing lyrical and kick and we're either doing hip-hop or poms."
Still, it's a challenge that the Redskins seem to embrace.
"I like it this year because we are competing against every different style of dance. Normally we only compete against pom and open pom and hip-hop. So that's different," senior captain Rachel Newhalfen said. "We're also competing against teams we've never competed against before. But it's nice to see different competition."
It is a different environment with different rules, but at the same time a familiar feeling.
"I feel pressure to do well, but at the same time it's nice to have a clean slate," Newhalven said. "That way we can set the bar high for all of the teams that will follow us."
Morris will be competing against 30 other teams on Friday afternoon in the preliminaries which will be held at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington. Warmup time is at 4:25 p.m. with competition at 5:10.
"I definitely think there is pressure because we are going up against teams we've never competed against," Struck said. "Usually there is a hip-hop champion in 2A and a pom champion but there's also open dance and kick and other different categories that have very, very talented teams that we don't compete against every year.
"I know there was 30 teams at each sectional, so that's a lot more teams than we're used to competing against."
What's left is for the Redskins to become the first IHSA-sanctioned dance team in history to finish first. If the team's score from the sectional at Fieldcrest is any indication, it looks like the locals will be right there.
"It (the score) was much higher than the week before when we competed for conference. Granted, when you have different judges the scores are going to jump here or there, but it makes us feel good that we have such a high score that we have achieved," Struck said. "After going through all the scores, we are the fifth highest and you have to be in the top 10 to make the finals. So, we're keeping our fingers crossed that it's an accurate assessment of scores and that we'll do good on Friday."