It was quite a week for the Bellevue West High School varsity winter guard team.

On April 6, squad members traveled to Dayton, Ohio, to compete in the Winter Guard International competition. On April 10, they returned as world champions.

Not only is it the first time West had earned this award, but it’s also the first time a Nebraska high school had made it to finals. West, undefeated all season, earned the highest score at Winter Guard International in the preliminary, semifinal and final rounds.

Competing in the Scholastic A division, West scored 98.7 points in Saturday’s final, the second-highest in that division’s history.

“It was like a dream, it was unbelievable,” winter guard member Erin Niemeyer said. “None of us were expecting it.”

West was within a point with nine other teams, and beat out second-place finisher Smithfield-Selma High School from Smithfield, N.C., for the title.

“We were all just neck-and-neck, so nobody knew who was going to win,” guard member Sydney Stricklin said.

The members of the varsity winter guard team are Maren Schuttler, Sydney Stricklin, Hannah Sager, Jenny Orellana, Erin Niemeyer, Rachael Riera, Tatiana Wilson, Alyssa Beyersdorf, Nicole Koenigsman, Gaby Duron, Veronica Bryant, Alycia Cain, Ashley Ericksen, Shilo Thacker, Laci Bordwell, Ariel Fitzpatrick and Jayden Henry.

Each team chose a theme, and coach Julie Hadley chose “River Voices” for West’s performance.

“They’re like sirens of the water, you’re enticing people to bring them down to the bottom of the water,” Hadley said of the theme.

Winter guard, the indoor version of color guard, consists of synchronized moves to music with the use of colorful flags.

Teams are given a score on their performance by a panel of judges in several areas, including equipment, movement, design analysis and general effect.

During their performance, the team tried to make a connection with audience members, which they believe helped set them apart from the competition.

“Our coach really emphasized a connection with our audience and our judges,” Niemeyer said.

Not only did the team connect with the audience, but their cohesiveness as a team was also a factor in their victory.

“We just vibe with each other really well, and that helps us when we’re on the floor,” guard member Veronica Bryant said.

The 17 members of the varsity color guard team had been practicing since November, often twice a day, and several team members recognized the leadership of Hadley throughout the process.

“None of it would have been possible without Miss Julie Hadley,” Bryant said.

Fans that weren’t able to travel to Ohio still found a way to support their team. On Saturday, about 120 people turned out to DJ’s Dugout in Bellevue to watch West’s performance on the big screen televisions.

The team returned by bus Sunday to West and was greeted by dozens of supporters with signs, cheering on the new world champions.

Also arriving with the West varsity team was the O.N.E independent color guard team, made up of graduates from West and other metro area high schools. The O.N.E team placed 24th in the competition.

The Bellevue West junior varsity team also competed at Winter Guard International in the Scholastic A division, and received a score of 73.93.

Bellevue West will return to Winter Guard International next weekend, this time with a percussion team.

“We’re so excited because we’re welcoming these guys home and then our percussion team goes out next week,” band booster president Toni Williams said.

Bellevue West’s percussion team will compete in the Winter Guard International Tournament beginning Thursday.

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