When the second-place finisher was announced April 9 at the Color Guard World Championships, Shenendehowa’s varsity team understood what that meant but couldn’t quite fathom it.
All of the teams in the Winter Guard International competition’s 52-team Scholastic Open division had been called — except Shen. Kelly Pagniello, a sophomore on the 16-deep team of 15 girls and one boy, said the looks on her teammates faces were a mix of excitement and shock.
“It actually just happened,” was the thought that ran through her mind.
After finishing in eighth place last year at worlds, director Scott Snell’s program captured first place in 2016 with a score of 96.85 in Dayton, Ohio. In addition to the squad’s overall title, the team’s free-flowing routine won it a “Fan Favorite” award at the championships.
“We have people hanging upside down and doing things other [teams] don’t,” Shenendehowa sophomore Amanda Maltz said. “We knew we had to prepare ourselves for a loud crowd.”
“It was definitely a more demanding show from last year,” Shenendehowa sophomore Brittany Anderson said. “But it was a very cool one, so we were all very interested in it. We knew how good the show could be.”
This year’s championships ran from April 7-9, with a fresh round of competition each day. Besides posting the best score in the championship round, Shenendehowa also had the highest score during the preliminaries and semifinals. Staying calm and keeping things in perspective became critical for the team through its successes.
“We talked a lot about not worrying about the final placement, but just absorbing the moment. No matter what place they ended up in at the end, they were experiencing something a lot of students never would,” said Snell, the program’s leader for 20 seasons. “That was our philosophy. It’s not just about the results, it’s about the experience you’re having.”
In a competition season that started in January and ended at the world championships, Shenendehowa never lost. That run included winning a state title and a pair of regional championships, competitions that helped the experienced group gain the poise needed to perform at its best on the biggest stage.
“Winning a world championship had been a dream of mine since I started. I was in disbelief for a long time after it,” Anderson said. “It was unreal.”
Reach Gazette sportswriter Michael Kelly at 395-3109, [email protected], or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.