by Lon Cohen |

The St. Joseph’s College Golden Eagles dance team will hit the road again to compete in the Universal Dance Association’s College National Championship in Orlando, Fla., at Disney World.

The dancers will compete in jazz and hip-hop categories.

Both the dancers and their coach are optimistic about this year’s competition being held this weekend.

“We have a very good chance of doing well this year and meeting our goals,” said Gabrielle Castelletti, a ‘15 graduate of Patchogue-Medford High School and current Secondary Education Major at the college. “Of course we want to come in first but our first goal is to make it into the finals in both dances.”

The 19-member team has put in countless hours of hard work both in and out of the studio to prep, according to Castelletti. They have also been getting pumped for the upcoming competition by sharing practice videos with each other.

The St. Joseph’s College Golden Eagles dance team. (courtesy)

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Junior Captain Amanda Marcinek said that she is confident that the team will perform well in Orlando.

“Every time we are training we make the most out of our time and focus to perfect our dancing,” she said.

Head coach Jessica Desz — also a former dancer on the team who graduated St. Joseph’s College in ‘13, said that the team doesn’t stop with just preparing for nationals.

“They go to school full time, they have jobs and they perform at men’s and women’s soccer and basketball games, as well as attend fundraisers and community service events,” she said.

Desz said the team has grown a lot since she was a dancer. She traveled with the team to the national competition only once as a student.

The team went to the nationals again in 2014-the same year Desz became assistant coach-and has returned every year since then.

When she got the job, Desz took the approach that to become better the school had to attract the attention of top dancers in Suffolk County while performing at local competitions. The Golden Eagles had to look like an organization that high school girls would want to dance with at the college level.

“If a dancer tries out and is almost there we will work with them to get on the team,” said Desz. They look for dancers who are dedicated hard workers with school spirit.

“No matter what though, academics come first,” she added.

The process worked and now Desz said the team consists of dancers with a number of championship titles under their belts.

“The talent on the team this year is the best St. Joseph’s College has ever experienced,” she said.

The passion and love the women have for their sport is reflected in the two dances the team will perform in Orlando.

“The choreographers really took into account the ability level of the St. Joseph’s College team and created two very strong dances,” said Castelletti, who danced with Relevé Dance Centre in Blue Point and with the Raiderettes, the Pat-Med high school kick line team, before joining the dancers at St. Joseph’s College.

In the jazz competition, the team will perform their routine to a dramatic version of “I Ran (So Far Away)” by Hidden Citizens, a remake of the 80’s pop hit by Flock of Seagulls.

“It’s a sharp, fierce, dance,” said Desz.

The hip-hop dance number is done to a mix of five different songs. Desz described the dancers as attacking the song to get into it.

“They have to have a lot of energy,” she said.

Marcinek, who graduated from Connetquot High School in 2016 and is currently enrolled in Child Study with a concentration is Psychology, thinks their hard work will pay off just making it to the final round.

“As a team we would feel so accomplished because we have collectively worked hard and pushed through so many obstacles,” she said.

The categories they dance in are open and consists of all D2 and D3 schools. According to Desz, there will be about 25 teams competing in hip-hop and 35 teams entered into the jazz category.

Ultimately, half of the teams will make it to the final round. Voting is based on a number of qualifications including difficulty, technique, uniformity, musicality, and execution.

The team already earned first place for their jazz routine and second place for hip-hop at a local competition.

Desz said that both dances are intense and infectious.

“They make the audience want to dance with us,” she said.

Top Photo: St. Joseph’s dance team members Taylor Groeger, Danielle Monteverde, Gabrielle Castilletti and Samantha Strand. (courtesy)