By Shannon Mortensen
Photos by Ari Davis & Shane Marshall
Coached by Shannon Mortensen and Joelle Banford, the Copper Hills High drill team is the reigning Class 5A state champion. The 2105 state title made it three in a row for the Azurettes.
Copper Hills may currently be the team to beat, but it wasn’t too long ago the Azurettes were running in the middle of the pack. Coach Shannon Mortensen recounts her experience as the Azurettes climbed their way to the top.
Story of Success
When I started coaching the Azurettes in the summer of 2010 I had high hopes of coaching a state championship team. It quickly became clear this was a goal that had many barriers.
I was told winning state was a “pipe dream.” No way would Copper Hills even be considered as a finalist. The Top 5 teams were on lock-down.
There were plenty of reasons, but they seemed to fall into two categories.
No. 1- “You don’t have enough money.” Without money your costumes won’t be good enough and you can’t hire a fancy choreographer.
We wanted to win a region title and place in the Top 5 at state. It was time to get to work. Immediately, reason No. 1 punched me in the face. Our drill account was $4,000 in the negative. We had to get very creative with costumes.
My amazing mother, KayCee Sawyer, and co-coach at the time, Meghan Honey, did most of the costume work between them. My mother built our props and our parents did A LOT of fundraising. We did not have the best costumes that season, but we were able to get our account into the black.
We started our first season strong, we swept our first competition and did very well at the next, and our emotions were riding high. At our third invitational we had a major setback. We didn’t win a single division. The girls were crushed and immediately pulled out reason No. 2.
“We were only beaten because other teams had better reputations,” “We were overlooked because we are Copper Hills.”
I just don’t believe in reason No. 2.
It’s true we were beaten by teams that had a decade of success behind them, but this decade of success was no accident. Every school earns the reputation that it has.
I told my girls that if they were not happy with our reputation, it was their responsibility to change it. If we didn’t win, it was because we weren’t good enough, and we had to get better.
They had to learn not to blame their defeat on something out of their control. If you cannot control it, you cannot change it. We win or lose based on our own actions.
When a team truly believes this its whole world opens up. Suddenly, you have the power to create your own destiny.
We didn’t win our region. This was another devastating blow to the team. We were headed into the state tournament with a less desirable seeding than we had wanted.
Placing in the Top 5 was a dream that instantly vanished. I am ashamed to say I lowered my expectations. All I wanted now was to place in one division. I just wanted to hear Copper Hills announced ONE TIME at the competition. The day of State I held my breath as the announcer read the results in the military division.
Fifth place… not us, fourth place… not us, my heart sunk as each second passed. Third place… Copper Hills High School! We erupted as if we had just won the Super Bowl.
We were jumping up and down with tears running down our faces. We barely were settled down as the next division started being announced. We came in second in the dance division, and didn’t place in kick.
The world was spinning and I thought I would pass out. The biggest shock was our overall placement. We came in third place overall. A team that had never even had its name announced at state, had now placed in the Top 5.
Years That Followed
The next year we came back stronger and placed second overall. We continued our fundraising efforts. We raised more money than we spent and continued our do-it-yourself attitude.
Our costumes got better, our routines improved and our talent grew. Finally, in 2013, Copper Hills won its first state championship. The Azurettes held on to this title in 2014 and 2015.
Copper Hills may have become a major player in Utah drill, but I can never shake the feeling of being an underdog. I will never forget that first year of coaching or the girls on that team.
How many people said this couldn’t be done? There is and always be one million reasons why you can’t succeed, but I will never lower my expectations again.
An obstacle is nothing more than a problem waiting to be solved. Nobody always wins. All you can do is be the best that you can, as much as you can.