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2023's Biggest Winners: Part 3

Drumroll, please! The last chunk of states is here in the three-part series on least season's biggest winners. Grab a popcorn, sit back and get healthy doses of East Coast, Southern Plains and Canadian show choir.

North Carolina – Voyager Bull City Lights (1 – North Carolina State)

With Voyager’s own competition a post-pandemic casualty, the lone opportunity for show choirs to shine in North Carolina is now at the state competition. Longtime director Nicole Whitby left for Clover Hill in advance of the 2023 season, and Nathan Maras stepped in as director, his first time at the helm of a group. Following a little bit of an underwhelming season in Virginia, Voyager held court at states over Hough, grabbing awards for vocals, choreography, band, show design and director.

Ohio – Findlay First Edition and Ross Legacy (4 each)

While Piqua looked like the early-season favorite to be the winningest group in Ohio, it wound up being a split between a legendary program and an upstart program. While it was definitely an above-average year for Kevin Manley’s First Edition, it was also their fourth four-win season since 2015. First Edition rolled through the regular Ohio season undefeated, beating everyone from Loveland to Marysville to Piqua to Solon. Taking their production to Show Choir Nationals, FFE netted third in both prelims and finals and a best crew award. Ross won just about every caption in the book at a smaller Nitro competition to start off the year before piecing together a string of firsts and seconds as their competition schedule wound through Ohio and Indiana. They were on the outside looking in at HOA Nashville finals, but Sterling Finkbine’s tenure at Ross ended with a statement win at Fairfield over Loveland, Hurricane, ETC and Olentangy. When the dust settled on the season, Ross’ all-time championship count went from five to nine.

Oklahoma – Broken Arrow Tiger Rhythm (3 – Joplin, Keller Central, Jenks)

After debuting the 2023 show at a wildly stacked Ankeny Centennial competition, it was smooth sailing for Tiger Rhythm. Now firmly entrenched in the “traveling power” category, it is only fitting that all three of Broken Arrow’s wins came in different states. All three also included both vocals and choreography captions, a resounding measure of the group’s success. Joplin saw TR conquer most of the western Missouri power players, including Neosho, Carthage, Webb City, and Pleasant Hill. Lone Star was BA’s second consecutive win there and saw them take on all of Texas plus Jenks and Jackson Prep. At the end of the season, Broken Arrow finally had a local competition just across the Tulsa metro at Jenks. Although Pleasant Hill nabbed the band caption, it was a great end to a season that may springboard Broken Arrow into the national elite.

Ontario – Etobicoke Splash (1- Show Choir Canada)

With Show Choir Canada finally returning to an in-person format following the pandemic, it was just about a given that Splash would be on top of the leaderboard. They won their fourth straight Show Choir Canada championship and eighth overall, further cementing their legacy as Canada’s best modern-era show choir.

South Dakota – Mitchell Friend de Coup (3 – Omaha South, Bishop Heelan, Sioux City East)

Although Mitchell didn’t start competing until the second Saturday of February this season, they came in hot and heavy. An epic showdown at Omaha South saw them come out ahead of both Omaha Westside and Papillion-La Vista South, widely regarded as Nebraska’s two best programs, in a wild caption situation that saw FDC take choreo and the win, PLVS with no major captions in second and ATSC with vocals and band in third. While Mitchell’s two other wins at Bishop Heelan and Sioux City East were not as hotly contested, Mitchell was still the undisputed standout of South Dakota. That culminated in a wild HOA Nashville where only four groups made finals, and three of them were choreographed by Stephen Todd. FDC was the last group of the four, but still made quite the impact on the national stage.

Texas – Keller Central Voices of Central (2 – Fort Worth Southwest and Legacy)

Seasoned show choir observers may think ‘another year, another Keller Central rollover of the Dallas metro.’ In fact, 2023 was the most vulnerable that VOC has looked in ages, and it’s hard to tell whether that’s a sign that the program at Keller Central has taken a step back or if the rest of Texas is starting to round into form. Neither of Keller Central’s wins were sweeps – Legacy took choreography at Fort Worth Southwest and Keller took vocals at Legacy. 2024 will be a pivotal year – it may be the resurgence of Texas’ oldest and most storied program, or it could be the opening of the floodgates for the rest of the state. Outside of Texas, VOC traveled to Wheaton Warrenville South and made finals at one of the toughest competitions in the Midwest, placing sixth.

Utah – American Leadership Academy Evolution (1 – FAME Orlando)

ALA has been tough to get a pulse on after the retirement of program founder Rick Lunt in 2021. It failed to make finals at a decently competitive HOA Nashville event in 2022 before opting to go the FAME route in 2023. Directors Chari Bennett and Jordan Keith brought in several well-known names to choreograph the group, including Damon Brown, Tara Tober and Dominic Matas. At FAME Orlando, Evolution took a sweep win over Jackson Academy, regarded as a top-ten show choir in Mississippi. ALA then opted to travel to FAME Nationals, where they were last of the six groups in mixed division. At the end of the season, observers were left back where they were at the start, wondering what the future path of ALA will be.

Virginia – Cosby Spotlight (3 – Thomas Dale, Hanover & Mechanicsville, Powhatan)

In a Virginia show choir world where traditional top dog Clover Hill is going through a transition period and large mixed divisions rarely exceed three choirs, Cosby was there as a consistent force, winning all three of their in-state appearances and beating almost every other Virginia powerhouse in the process. What is perhaps more impressive than that is the fact that Spotlight debuted its show at the Homestead Classic Showcase in Indiana, qualifying into finals in a solid large mixed division and losing only to Zionsville, Brownsburg and ETC. If they choose to travel out-of-state again in 2024, expect more big things from Cosby.

West Virginia – Hurricane Red Hot (4 – Winfield, Grove City, South Dearborn, West Virginia State)

Another flip of the calendar and another season where Red Hot is at the top of the West Virginia show choir heap. Hurricane didn’t lose to an in-state group all year and only lost to Marysville on home soil. Three of its four wins were a trifecta with vocals, choreography and band. Red Hot’s winning spanned three states from West Virginia to Ohio to Indiana, claiming wins at Grove City and South Dearborn. Since Joseph Kincaid stepped on as director, Hurricane has won 34 grand championships and has firmly entrenched themselves as the best in the Mountain State.

Wisconsin – Onalaska Hilltoppers and Sauk Prairie Executive Session (3 each)

It’s no surprise that Onalaska winds up on this list – after Mike Esser retired from La Crosse Central in 2019, the Hilltoppers have been the consensus best show choir in the state. They continued to dominate Wisconsin in 2023, with all their wins coming in-state at Colby, La Crosse Central and La Crosse Logan. While they didn’t fare the best out-of-state – including an uncharacteristic fourth at Western Dubuque – it’s fair to say that the Hilltoppers still came out on top of the state in 2023. Sauk Prairie, with its unique ‘showsical’ style, started off a little slow early in January but rounded into form by Wisconsin midseason, taking its wins on Jan. 21, Feb. 4 and Feb. 18. None of those stood out as beating several household-name choirs, but like Onalaska, they did a good job of cleaning up locally. Executive Session also traveled to FAME Show Choir America and almost made it four wins on the season, losing in a split-caption decision to Auburn.

That wraps up our feature on 2023’s winningest groups! Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for more content before the 2024 season comes around!

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