“And now for your halftime entertainment.”
Those few words precede the group of 16 women taking center stage in the Sun Dome during a home basketball game. Halftime is their time to shine, showing off their moves during two minutes of non-stop motion.
They also appear in the fall on the sidelines at Raymond James Stadium during USF home football games, wearing glowing smiles that never seem to fade.
However, a lot of hard work and pain precede those smiles. And it all begins with tryouts.
The Sun Dolls tryouts were held March 20-21 in the USF Rec Center auditorium. Forty-three women attended the two-day tryout, vying for one of 16 slots on the 2003 squad. This gives potential Dolls a taste of what’s to come in the future.
“It’s pretty grueling,” said junior Sasha Hasselbring, who enters her third year on the squad. “There’s no guarantee that you’re going to make it, and it’s nerve-wrecking.”
The first day consists of three routines designed to give coach Caroline Wiren an idea of which women have what it takes to be on the squad.
“Basically, the first day is learn a routine, do a routine,” Wiren said. “(We look for) how quickly they can pick (the routine) up, but more importantly their technique.”
After the first day, the roster is trimmed to 20, and the returning Sun Dolls join the rest of the women during the second day of tryouts. No previous member is guaranteed a spot on the next year’s roster, but they don’t have to attend the first day of tryouts.
On the second day, all the women must learn an eight to 10-count routine in one hour and perform that routine in front of Wiren and her assistants. The second cut then follows that routine, and the remaining women perform one last routine, a one-minute solo act in front of the judges only.
The next step is probably the most difficult, as the women are forced to wait for the judges’ decisions on who makes the team, one of the things most people don’t see.
“They don’t see the heartache of being cut, seeing girls you thought were really good not make the team,” said incoming freshman Kelly Kishpaugh of Orlando.
“When I first came, I was terrified,” said Hasselbring, recalling the first time she tried out for the squad.
Hasselbring and Kishpaugh both made this year’s team. However, whatever smiles were on their faces then will surely dissipate behind the scenes when they begin practice.
Being a part of USF athletics, these women are forced to train just like any other sport.
“(People) don’t see the drilling, they don’t see the grueling (part),” Hasselbring said.
“We have to run two miles two times a week, and then on top of that we’ll go three, four hours non-stop of jumping and turning and leaping,” said junior Jeannie Reilly, who is entering her fourth year as a Sun Doll. “So, the next day, I can tell you, you’re so sore, and it hurts so bad.”
During practice the Sun Dolls work on their dance routines, which consist of around eight halftime routines and 14 sideline routines. Each routine takes anywhere from six to 20 hours to learn depending on the length and difficulty level. Add all the practice time to school, as well as a job for most of the women, and it can get a little stressful to balance.
“Sometimes you have two or three tests in a week, and (then) you have to think about practice,” Hasselbring said.
“There’s probably a few points in the season when you’re like, ‘I can’t do this, I have too much going on,'” Reilly said.
However, all the hard work culminates with the opportunity to perform as the center of attention.
“I think the biggest benefit is during that minute and a half (on the basketball court) or during that two hours on the (sidelines of a football) field,” Wiren said. “As soon as you here the applause from the crowd, it’s worth it.”
Adam Adkins can be reached at email@example.com