Here’s a quick quiz: What Spokane Valley high school has sent a graduate each of the past three seasons to start at Washington State University this season?
Oh, stop guessing. If it was that easy, no one would bother to ask.
It’s West Valley, the alma mater of fully one-fifth of the 15-member WSU Crimson Girls dance team, a squad that placed eighth at last year’s Universal Dance Association College Dance Team Nationals in Orlando, Fla., and has booked a return trip to Disney World later this month.
Junior Jenny Gudgel, sophomore Peyton Boone and freshman Alexis Spies all are former captains of the dance team at West Valley, where they each helped lead the E-Gals to state championships.
Two more Crimson Girls are from Mead: Katie Green is a sophomore and Kaila Evenoff, an all-Greater Spokane League all-around gymnast during her career at Mead, is a senior transfer from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
“It’s been kind of a natural progression,” Boone said. “I started dancing when I was 3-years-old. I’ve studied tap and jazz and I loved being part of the dance team at West Valley. I knew that Jenny had come to Pullman and had made the team and I did the same thing.”
The West Valley-Washington State dance pipeline got started early. The Crimson Girls were formed in 2003 and former E-Gals captain and current choreographer, Maggie Cahalan, joined the squad a year later.
Cahalan, daughter of team coach Jodee Cahalan, choreographed routines for the E-Gals from her first days at West Valley and worked out the routines that have earned the team a host of state championships. Naturally, her dancers followed her career, which now includes coaching the Spokane Shock dance team.
“It was exciting to see Maggie and hear about the Crimson Girls from her,” Boone said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s exciting to be a part of it all. We practice three times a week and perform at all home football and volleyball games, all men’s and women’s basketball games, and right now we’re getting ready for nationals January 15th and 16th. And we perform at other events.
“We also do a lot of work in the community. We did a dance clinic with an elementary school in Pullman and a bunch of us volunteer at a Pullman Elementary School as part of their Reading Buddies program.
“We do a lot.”
A year ago the Crimson Girls submitted an audition tape to the UDA.
“You have to submit a tape to get in,” Boone explained. “You send them a tape of your routine, but you also have to show that you work in the community.”
Hence the community outreach, although Boone said it carries its own reward.
In this case, it opened the door to nationals.
“You don’t hear a lot about the UDA nationals out here on the West Coast. Most of the teams there are from the South. The only two teams from this side of the country were us and the University of Oregon. Most teams out here go to the USA Collegiate Nationals in Las Vegas.”
The Cougars have done that before, too – competing there each year before opting to shift coasts last season.
“We were ranked 29th out of 30 teams going in,” Boone said. “After the semifinals we were ranked 13th and made the finals and came home with an eighth-place trophy.”
This year the Crimson Girls head to Orlando with a routine that benefits from last year’s national experience.
“We learned a lot last year,” Boone explained. “We went back there with the mindset that we were going do our best and learn as much as we could. This year we’re going back there with the goal of placing in the top five.
“We learned a lot from what we saw last year. I know I was blown away by the University of Cincinnati, the team that placed first, and by Louisiana State University, the team that finished second.”
The team will put its national routine on display Jan. 13 at halftime of West Valley’s nonleague girls basketball game with Lakeland.
“We’ll be there on the 13th and we fly to Orlando the next day,” Boone said. “You’ll get to see the exact program we’re doing at nationals.”
Local dance fans can follow Washington State at nationals, she added. ESPN annually airs the national championships, although not as much of the dance competition as Boone and her friends would like.
“They concentrate on the cheerleader side,” she said. “But you can follow us on varsity.com. They put the routines up on the Internet within just a couple hours. My friends are all excited about being able to watch us, even if they can’t get to Orlando.”
And, she said, the team can always use some extra help getting across the country.
“We get no money from the school to support the program, so we do a lot of fundraising,” she said. “I think we’ll even have some of our posters available for people to buy when we perform at West Valley.”