By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Jeff Porcaro
They take their name from a ballet term meaning “to rise up, ” so it should be no surprise that the Maple Mountain High drill team has quickly ascended to become one of the state’s most competitive units.
In the six years since the school opened, the Elleves have finished in the state’s Top 5 five times. What are the reasons behind the rapid rise to prominence in a sport that requires precision and the ultimate in team unity? Their coach, Molly Brenchley, is an experienced leader, and she credits the community from which the school draws its students.
“I was lucky because just in the Spanish Fork area alone and in Springville, there are several dance studios and there are some in Salem,” Brenchley said. Right here in this Southern Utah County area, there are at least five or six dance studios. Some studios are stronger than others, but they all get a good base.”
The young ladies on the team work hard to develop routines that impress judges and parents alike, but for most of them, it started with training that began long before they reached high school.
“Every girl on my team has taken (dance) at a studio,” Brenchley said. “When I coached at Payson before, not many of the girls took dance and so that was a different challenge. The whole summer, we had to teach them technique, we had to teach them dance skills. Here, at Maple Mountain, the girls come trained, ready to go, so you have a different challenge. You’ve got to blend all of those styles that they’ve learned at those different studios, but then you can go a lot further because they’ve got the basics down.”
It also helps if you can slip inside the mind of the judges, to get a feel for exactly what they are looking for as they evaluate different teams and different routines.
“Judges check that the movement is clean and everybody is doing it exactly the same,” Brenchley said. “Their showmanship, they have an energy level, they’re confident, they’re excited to be out there. They’re confident, but they’re calm. Even if they’re nervous, it just comes off as confidence. The routine, the choreography, the routine has all the elements the judges are looking for.
“Sometimes a team can be amazing, their showmanship is flawless, they’re clean, but the routine is missing level changes or doesn’t have ripples or they’re staying in places for too long. So, you might say two routines are both the same, but one routine might be something the judges like better.”
There are few coaches better suited to take her team behind the scenes and in to the mind of a judge. A dancer since she was five and a member of the Juab High drill team, Brenchley started judging drill when she was in college.
A UHSAA-certified drill judge, she has been coaching for 25 years (the first 19 at Payson), but she has been a judge for 28, at least when she can squeeze it in, but her coaching duties come first. Nevertheless, she knows what a judge wants to see.
“I feel like judging helps me be a better coach,” Brenchley said. “When we get to the point where the routines are pretty clean and we’re preparing for competition, I try to look at it from a judge’s point of view. As a coach, you know which girls have improved and which girls are getting a little bit better at that part, but a judge doesn’t know that. A judge is just looking at the routine that is put before them and they’ve got to just judge it.
“You don’t know that ‘that girl’s working hard, she’s getting so much better, you don’t know that.’ I just tell them the judges don’t care if you’re having a bad day. The judges don’t care it’s your birthday. They’re just judging what’s put before them, and a lot of time when you’re going for that first or second spot, all it takes is one girl to not be doing the facial everybody else is, or one girls misses a turn or a kick and then that’s it. You’re just giving the judges something to put you down a spot.”
Like drill teams everywhere, these young ladies work extremely hard preparing routines and finding ways to get in sync. During competition season, Brenchley estimates that she sees the team for about 20 hours each week, and she says the summer training schedule is much more demanding.
The results so far at this new school in the southern part of Utah County have been amazing. The Elleves are still chasing Bountiful, the six-time defending state 4A champions, but Brenchley hopes this is the year they finally rise to the top at the state championships.
“I just think there’s something special here (at Maple Mountain),” Brenchley said. “They come trained, but this school from the minute we opened, it’s just been… Our name ‘Elleves’ comes from a ballet term that means ‘to rise up’ and I like that because rise up, mountains rise, they’re high. That’s what we’re kind of going off of and then dance elevated.
“That’s kind of our school motto – everything lifted up, higher standard, reach high. Our mascot’s the golden eagle, fly high. There’s just an attitude of excellence here, in everything – academics, fine arts, sports…everyone really wants to achieve here. It makes a difference, it really does.”