It’s no secret that the Faribault Emeralds dance team has been historically the most successful dance program in the Big 9 Conference.
Dating back to the 1993-94 dance season and prior to Saturday’s Big 9 Conference meet in Rochester, the Faribault Emeralds had captured 21 conference titles, which included a nine-year stretch between 2012-13 and 2020-21, where the Emeralds were crowned champions.
So when the Austin Packers dance team, the 2021-22 Class AA High Kick state champions, dethroned the Emeralds and snapped the nine-year title streak by winning in 2021-22, the Emeralds knew it was up to them to take it back.
And they did so on Saturday.
“Austin’s been a pretty big competitor for about four or five years now and when we lost that Big 9 title last year, we were pretty devastated about it because we had that streak going and we lost it,” said Brooklyn Zrust, one of four team captains. “But I think that really fueled us this year. We danced angry on Saturday and I think that’s what won it for us. We had a lot of emotion behind our dancing.”
The Big 9 Conference is headed by the two powerhouse programs between the Faribault Emeralds and the Austin Packers Dance Team, but also features some up-and-coming programs like Owatonna, so Saturday’s field of competition for the Big 9 title was no easy task.
If you ask head coach Lisa Dahl or any of the Emeralds’ four team captains between Zrust, Sophia Mentz, Ava Korbel or Jaden Lang, you’d hear one common theme: it was one of their best showings of the year.
“Going into it, we knew this had to be our best performance yet,” Lang said. “We knew we had a big challenge ahead of ourselves, but the energy before we went out for kick, it felt just so right. I can’t really explain it, I just almost so confident that it was going to be a good run when we went out on the floor, there was no worry and I think every one of us brought out A-game and I think that’s why we had such a good performance.”
Going into Saturday’s conference meet, the Emeralds had seen Austin at some of the Invitationals that they’ve been competing in over the course of the dance season, but had yet to beat the Packers Dance Team.
However, the Emeralds high kick routine was ranked as the best among all of the Big 9 teams on Saturday and took first place with Austin training in second and Owatonna trailing in third.
They just missed out on sweeping both routines with the jazz routine earning a second place finish, but Austin still trailed behind them in third place with Owatonna jazz earning first place.
Between their first place finish on high kick and the second place finish on jazz, the Emeralds can now officially take their spot back at the top of the conference with their 22nd Big 9 title since 1993-94.
“I think on the floor, we were a lot more connected,” Korbel said. “It felt like we were just one dancer out on that floor all together. It was a very surreal moment. The audience was great, it was extremely loud, the hype was there more than it has this year, which really made a huge difference.”
Not only did the Emeralds win the Big 9 title, but they also saw their four captains in Lang, Zrust, Mentz and Korbel all be named as All-Conference selections, while also having Faith Leichtnam, Ava Hacker, Lily Ernste and Ella Prange be named as All-Conference Honorable Mentions.
And as if winning a conference title and having eight total dancers earn conference recognition itself wasn’t an already great day, the Emeralds were able to close out their day with an exciting trip up to Minneapolis.
The Minnesota Timberwolves invited the Emeralds to the Target Center –where the state dance meet is held– to perform their high kick routine before the Wolves’ home game against the Houston Rockets.
“That was probably the most fun bus ride ever,” Mentz said. “We really lived [the Big 9 title win] up for like 20 minutes and then everyone took a nap the rest of the way. We were all just very excited to just be Big 9 champs and we were all very proud of each other for how we performed and were excited to go up there and do it again, especially on the Target Center floor.”
The job isn’t quite finished yet for the Emeralds, who are going right back to work with a trip to Delano in store for a meet at Delano High School, which Dahl mentioned is being considered a “mega meet” with plenty of great teams, including Austin, going to be in attendance..
Another common theme between the Faribault captains is that the Emeralds are all ready to go back to work and continue to improve as they prepare for the section meet to approach. The end goal, which Lang mentioned to knock on wood when talking about the subject, is to return to the Target Center, but this time to compete in the Class AA state meet.