Make that back-to-back state championships for the Capital High School dance team. A year after capturing the virtual state title, the Cougars were back at it again, winning the 3A pom crown at the state high school dance/drill championships at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
“From the moment the team was formed it was a special group,” said Capital head coach Jaci Gruhn. “They kept their goal in their minds. Every one of them put the team first, put each other first. We went through hard practices and through things, but at the end of the day, everyone wanted the same thing.”
This year’s Capital squad consisted of April Garvida, Eleanor Hubbard, Ella Mahoney, Ellie Camus, Grace Salapka, Hien Le, Kailey Clark, Kamrynn Yount, Kylee Gruhn, Maddie Ramsfield, Mikayla Christensen, Peyton Sare Hagen, Sophia Joe, Victoria Cohen and captains Hayden Rosales and Sofia Skinner.
“These young women are incredible,” said Gruhn. “I can’t say how special our team is. I would love people to know that these athletes give themselves to this program and it shows how much they love and care for it. We take pride in our team, we take pride in our performances.”
In addition to winning the last two pom state championships, Capital also won the 3A state pom champions in 2010 and 2019, the 2A state pom title in 2014 and the 2016 military state championship under the director of Gruhn, who took over the Cougars’ program in 2009.
“It was everything from the last two years wrapped up in one title. These dancers went through something so hard and were resilient enough to keep coming back,” Gruhn said. “Believing in each other, believing in their goal, dancing for the alumni, dancing for themselves. This one will always be special because we were back.”
Gruhn was joined on her staff by assistant coach Sung Ja Albright and Carsen Rowe, who helped choreograph the group’s routine with Katie Devine.
“The two of them worked magic for us and gave us the most amazing routine,” said Gruhn about Devine and Rowe, the owner and CEO of Tribe99 Choreography. “We couldn’t have done what we did without them.”
While the returning members of the Capital team had a virtual state championship on their resume, the Cougars failed to feature a single dancer who had experience performing in front of a live crowd at the state level.
“When we took the floor at state for floor time,” said Gruhn, “not one athlete had competed on the floor.”
The lack of experience was immediately trumped by the team’s talent and determination. Those two traits were on full display during Capital’s title-winning performance when Hien Le, a junior and three-year varsity member, pulled her hamstring early into the routine.
“We had no idea,” said Gruhn. “From the front you couldn’t tell. With 25 seconds left in the dance, her body couldn’t do it anymore and she fell to the ground. But, like an absolute beast, mentally-tough competitor she picked herself up and finished the dance. The whole crowd was cheering her on, us on. At the SunDome, where we compete the dance teams sit on the back side. [The crowd] could see what we couldn’t see. From the jump split, early in the dance, [Hien] couldn’t straighten her leg. The crowd absolutely roared. It was incredible to hear the entire crowd cheering her on, helping her finish.”
The crowd was certainly behind the Cougars, but Gruhn and her team still had to wait for the scores to be announced later in the day to learn how they did.
“You know what, they were totally calm, like intense calm,” said Gruhn about the team’s mindset. “It was a business trip. That’s what we say. They knew the job they had to do – to just do their best. But, when Hien hurt herself, we didn’t know. We cried and cried. Sung Ja Albright and I had to get Hien to the state trainer. The girls were all crying for many reasons. They knew they killed it. They knew they had done it all, but they knew their friend and teammate was hurt. After that we were nervous. Would the judges see her injury as a mistake?”
As it turned out, they didn’t.
“To hear our name announced as champions, we sobbed. We absolutely all lost it,” Gruhn said. “We hugged and cheered and I can remember holding onto Hien’s hand and when they announced our team as the 3A Pom State Champion I jumped up and our eyes met. We did it.”
The Cougars left Yakima with a pair of trophies as Capital also placed third overall in the 2A/3A dance category.
“So much had been taken from these athletes [for two years],” Gruhn said. “Our juniors were freshman in 2020 when our season was stolen from us three weeks from state. The Class of 2020 was an incredible group of athletes, and our juniors and seniors led in a way of honoring the Class of 2020 and 2021.”
Capital, however, wasn’t the only local program to pick up some hardware at the state dance/drill championships as Tumwater notched a pair of second-place finishes. The Thunderbirds were runners-up in 2A/3A dance and in the 2A hip hop division.