Big Nine breakthrough

Published 9:27 am Monday, January 23, 2012

Albert Lea captain Stacia Lebeck performs with the high kick squad for the Albert Lea dance team during the Big Nine Conference championship Saturday in Austin. The Tigers finished third, its best in school history. -- Eric Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

AUSTIN — The Albert Lea dance team recorded its highest place in school history at the Big Nine Conference championships on Saturday at Austin High School.

After placing fourth for four consecutive seasons, the Tigers finished third, behind champion Austin and second-place Faribault.

Albert Lea’s Sarah Anderson performs during the high kick competition of the Big Nine Conference championship.Saturday in Austin.

“The whole team was absolutely thrilled,” Tigers coach Allison Ciota said. “We were hoping to repeat (fourth) or beat it, and our hopes were fulfilled so that was very exciting.”

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The Tigers placed third in the high kick and fourth in jazz competition, which featured a routine of eight dancers.

“In the high kick, it was the precision to get 20 team members to perform in perfect unison, and we had the highest energy level of the season,” Ciota said. “In jazz, the formations and choreography are intricate this year, and at Big Nine, we gave our most polished performance of the season.”

Albert Lea’s Morgan Ciota and Stacia Lebeck were named All-Conference, and Abby Pleiss and Angie Schmitt were Honorable Mention.

The Tigers compete next in the 13-team Section 1AA dance tournament, which Ciota said is the most competitive Class AA section in the state, with Austin and Faribault, and newcomer Chaska.

“The performances and outcome at Big Nine was a real confidence booster that came at the right time,” Ciota said.