There is one point in the St. Francis High School competitive dance routine, set to Ellie Goulding's "Dead in the Water," where coach Nichole Johnson knows whether the 15 members of her squad nailed it, if they are dancing not as individuals but as a seamless unit.
When that moment came Friday morning at the first day of the state finals, Johnson saw what she wanted to see.
"I could tell this was going to be a beautiful performance," she said Friday night. St. Francis, in Wheaton, finished in fifth place in the state dance preliminaries in Bloomington, easily qualifying for the championship round on Saturday, and the only local team to advance in Class 1A.
The preliminaries ended about 8 p.m. Friday, as 90 schools in three divisions performed their routines. The teams that didn't finish in the top 10 go home, but the 30 that did will come back Saturday for a shot at the state title.
The finalists, in order of finish, are:
• Class 3A: Lake Park High School, Roselle; Neuqua Valley High School, Naperville; Barrington High School; Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire; Glenbard North High School, Carol Stream; Warren Township High School, Gurnee; Amos Alonzo Stagg High School, Palos Hills; Downers Grove South High School; Minooka High School and South Elgin High School.
• Class 2A: Vernon Hills High School; Geneva High School; Fenton High School, Bensenville; Libertyville High School; Triad High School, Troy, Ill.; Antioch Community High School; Crystal Lake Central High School; Lakes Community High School, Lake Villa; Crystal Lake South High School; Freeport High School.
In Class 1A, the smallest schools, only St. Francis advanced among suburban schools. Aurora Central Catholic High School missed the finals by a heartbreaking 0.50 points, coming in 11th. IC Catholic Prep, in Elmhurst, finished 12th. Lisle High School was 20th.
Johnson and her team watched many of the other Class 1A schools on Friday, and she knows Saturday's finals will be tough. St. Francis will perform last.
"I'm putting my faith in the girls to rise to the occasion like they did today," she said.
Danielle Ragano coaches the Lake Park Lancers dance team, 15 girls who do a jazz number that's just full of "sassiness, attitude and power," she said Friday night. The top-scoring 3A routine is "just perfect for this group of girls," she said. "Today, they did amazing."
Vernon Hills High School brought a 22-member dance team to Bloomington, where it performed to a mix of two songs, "Battle For The Beat" and "Resolve."
Coach Beth Richards said the most rewarding thing about Friday was seeing it all come together on the floor.
"The best thing about the performance was seeing all the hard work they put in pay off," she said. "It made us so proud and happy."
Rather than build on their Friday scores, Saturday's finalists start with a clean slate, giving all of them an equal chance to win.
Many suburban schools performed well enough to go downstate but missed the cut for the finals. In 2A, those teams were Larkin, Wauconda, Cary-Grove, Prairie Ridge and Hinsdale South high school.
In 3A, they were Glenbard West, Bartlett, Naperville Central, Maine South, St. Charles East, Fremd, Jacobs, Mundelein, Huntley, Downers Grove North, Niles North and York.