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Midvale Journal

Hard work and positivity lead Hillcrest Drill to historic win

Mar 01, 2024 12:45PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High drill team was crowned 4A state championships Feb. 1 after winning its region title earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Chelsea Divine/Hillcrest High)

“We’ve just had an amazing season; it’s been one for the books.”

The record books, that is.

Hillcrest High’s drill team, fondly known as HD, had tears of joys, screams of delight and hard-earned applause as they were announced 4A state champions.

“There were so many tears; I was so proud,” said the team coach Chelsea Divine. “They did amazing. Winning truly felt like a dream. It’s been a movie script.”

That script isn’t over.

This month, they will compete in the 57th annual Miss Dance Drill Team USA national competition in California.

Afterward, “we get to celebrate the season at the happiest place on earth,” Divine said.

The 22-member team had an “epic” start of their season, being honored with the Epic Choice Award at their summer dance and drill camp.

“That kicked things off for us,” said Divine, who is assisted by coaches Carter Williams, Sydney McArther and Abby McCleary.

At their first invitational at Utah Valley University in December, the Huskies tied for first with two other teams, Desert Hills and Skyview high schools. In the tiebreaker, they were awarded third place.

“It was good because it kept us hungry and had us evaluate where we can improve,” she said.

At their second invitational, the Davis Valley Classic in January, HD “swept first place in every dance and that was really cool.”

The third competition, the Royal Classic invitational, they beat Ridgeline High, who had been ranked first in RPI all season. 

“That propelled us to sweep region and right into state,” Divine said. “Our theme this year is ‘the time is now.’ The captains and coaches emphasized the time is now to be the best that we can be. I didn’t want us focused on perfection. We really focused on being 1% better every day. The girls showed up to work every single day. They are the hardest-working team. They are positive, unified and unselfish. Everything we did was for Hillcrest, and what was going to be best for our team.”

The team is led by the only seniors on the team, Lola Nielson, the head captain, and Angelina Hickcok. Hickcok along with junior Aniyah Hassell are the dance captains. Junior Eden McFarland is the spirit captain. 

Divine said as HD, they talked about championships teams prior to being crowned 4A state and Region 10 champs.

“We asked what a championship team looks like? How do we become one and how all the pieces in that puzzle work together?” she said. 

One practice Divine came with a huge suitcase.

“The girls asked, ‘Are you going on a trip? What’s going on?’” she said. “I wheeled my suitcase and said, ‘I’ve been thinking about all the things that are going to hold us back this year.’ I went through my list. Then, I pretended the suitcase was heavy and I laid it down. I asked, ‘Can somebody come over here and help me unpack this?’ I said that it contained all the things that are going to hold us back. One of my juniors jumped up and opened it up. The only thing that was inside was a picture of the team. We talked about how the only thing that can get in our way is us and if we go all in and we give our very best, we’re going to win. It was really motivating,” she said.

The team that practices a couple mornings and two days after school weekly, is athletic.

“We put a lot of work into conditioning and strengthening so they could do more advanced skills. Our full team could do both right aerials and left aerials. We’ve had a full team do right aerial in the past, but this year, they also performed left aerials; it’s hard to do both sides,” Divine said.

In addition to team practices, Hillcrest and other community middle school and high school dancers attended the new Hillcrest Community Dance last summer. Designed as a training program that had offered technique, jazz and hip hop lessons at an affordable price, it focused on dance technique and helped build their confidence, she said.

“The priority was helping these girls with their turns and jumps and kicks and for them to build their confidence,” Divine said of the 10-week summer and 10-week fall sessions. “But I also wanted the dancers to have an opportunity to dance and remember why they loved it; they were able to train in a fun environment and be inspired by other dancers.”

Hip hop, which was taught by a guest instructor, was selected as it was one of the state routines this year.

“HD’s routines are amazing, every single one of them. I love our military routine because it’s creative and extremely athletic. The technical skills required for our dance routine are advanced and our girls really handled it well. They put a lot of emotion into their dance. Carter choreographed our third dance, which was Princess Peach. Those costumes are bright and fun and it’s a character that our girls could connect to,” she said. 

After winning state, Hillcrest held a pep rally assembly. 

“The girls got to perform for the school and they presented the trophy to the school, which was really cool,” Divine said.

The close-knit team that bonded last summer at Classic Skating —“we discovered we’re not great at skates”—performed at football and basketball games and at Dance for Life suicide awareness gala and competed to win the region and state titles, will hit the floor once more at nationals. 

“We’re fine-tuning their routines, including pom and a captain’s routine that weren’t part of the state competition,” she said. 

Additionally, Hassell, who placed in the top 10 at Miss Drill Utah, will compete for the Miss Drill USA title. 

Divine is looking forward to tryouts in mid-April, with the likely return of most of her team that includes seven strong freshmen.

“We’re gonna be rockin’,” she said. 

However, Divine is excited to have one last opportunity for this team to compete together.

“This is one of the sharpest teams that I’ve coached; it’s exciting to watch them,” she said. “This team appreciates and values their drill team experience; it means a lot to them that they got to be together. This team works hard and they’re consistent; that’s why they succeed.”

Other HD honors this year include Nielson, Hickcox and Hassell named to the 4A all-state drill team; junior Mia Ochoa Del Rio receiving the region hero award; juniors Jayden Graham, Eden McFarland and Samantha Sherrod honored as part of the all-region drill team; and 12 girls earning all-region academic awards: Nielson, Hickcox, McFarland, Ochoa Del Rio, Sherrod, freshman Leah Sherrod, Adalyn Cox, Bethany Stevenson, Ellie Runnells and Ruby Hurst; sophomore Ayanna Silvers and junior Maile Gonzalez. λ