Monique O’Neill served as an assistant for four years under legendary Evergreen poms coach Debbie Cooper.
So when Cooper unexpectedly moved out of state this year, O’Neill, as she put it, “tried to do everything that she taught me to” to keep the Lady Cougars on track.
“Initially, (the girls) were kind of scared, worried about what was going to happen,” O’Neill said. “I told them that I would step up to take it, and that if they had faith in themselves and faith in me that we’d have a successful year.”
The Evergreen Lady Cougars won their ninth 4A state championship, including their third straight, beating out Broomfield, Valor Christian and Battle Mountain on Dec. 7 at the Denver Coliseum. In the preliminaries, Evergreen held a minuscule 0.34-point lead over Broomfield and nothing changed after the four-team finals.
Evergreen, with seven returning performers from last year’s team, began working on its state championship routine in October, O’Neill said. The Lady Cougars first unveiled it at the Jeffco League championships and, based on the judges’ comments, tweaked some things in time for regionals on Nov. 16 and tweaked them again before state.
“This dance was totally different from where it started out in October,” O’Neill said.
By the looks of it, it was better.
The Lady Cougars, the last team to be announced as a finalist and the last to perform, left it all out on the floor. They wanted to show the judges what they had left.
“That’s what we talked about. You want to have no regrets,” O’Neill said. “I would’ve been happy no matter how we scored or where we placed because I felt like they did their best.”
O’Neill’s daughter, Abigail, was selected to the 4A all-state team by her teammates.
Though the bull’s-eye was squarely pointed at Evergreen, a perennial top-10 national program, the performers didn’t let that distract them from winning.
“We were all still so confident, determined because we knew what we had to do to take home the title,” senior captain Morgan Novick said. “Our new coach knew exactly how to bring us there.”
In the finals, Novick said, she could feel it when the team was dancing that the title was theirs to lose. You could feel the energy, she said.
“Every year is so different. Every year, there is a new group of girls out here. Every year, there are different teams out here. Each team always has something great to offer,” Novick said. “Being the state champion, everyone is looking at you, so you’ve got to bring your A game to out-dance everyone else.”
And, like how it has become custom of late, that’s what the Evergreen Lady Cougars did.
Contact Michael Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.