When the 2017 season opened up for the Vanguard Cadets — who presented a daring program called “In Pieces” — on June 23 in Clovis, California, a gap of nearly three points stood between themselves and the defending Open Class champions, Blue Devils B.
Over the weeks that followed, the Santa Clara corps began to gradually chip away.
Tuesday night in Michigan City, Indiana, the Vanguard Cadets completed their season-long comeback at the Open Class World Championship Finals to notch their first Open Class title since 2015.
“These young people and this staff are the toughest people and most dedicated people I've met in my life,” Vanguard Cadets director Steve Barnhill said. “They can do anything if they want to. They're amazing people and I love them all, it's an honor to lead them.”
Just as they did in Monday's Prelims competition at Ames Field, Vanguard Cadets (1st, 80.725) swept all captions in earning their fifth overall title and fourth since the inception of the Open Class division in 2008.
In the Santa Clara Vanguard organization's 50th year, having Vanguard Cadets take home the gold with their World Class brethren fighting for the same honor in the days ahead is quite the golden anniversary gift.
“It's just one of those years that we really dug deep and started communicating top to bottom, and it's really starting to pay off,” said executive director Charles Frost. “All the programs, both drum corps communicating together, the staff working together, it's just one big family and it's paying off.
Despite not repeating as champions, Blue Devils B finished in the top two for the 10th-straight season with a silver-medal score of 79.625, while also earning second across the board in all captions.
Blue Devils B
“I think consistency in the staff and the programs is really the main reason for our continued success,” Blue Devils B director Rick Odello said. “I think we feed off of each other's excellence, one person to the other. We are grateful that we have that competition on the west coast.”
Celebrating their 10th trip to the Open Class World Championships and ninth in a row qualifying for the Finals competition, Legends (3rd, 77.250) continued a steady rise through the rankings over the past decade with their second-straight bronze medal.
“Honestly, I would say consistency has had the biggest impact,” Legends director Ibe Sodawalla said. “We've really started to focus on relying on the machine that we've got going on and building on the foundations of our development in the early years and now just starting to really rock that out with a lot of retention.”
Earning their highest finish ever, Music City capped off a successful Open Class season in fourth place with a score of 76.763. Tuesday night's placement marked the first top-five standing for the Nashville corps, which scored as high as third in general effect.
“We had a pretty full rehearsal day today just fine-tuning things and making little changes,” Music City drum major Scott Smith said. “Everything we worked on showed up, so I can't complain.”
“The motivation from scores last night also helped us,” drum major Jeremiah Wooten added. “Just a little friendly rivalry (with Legends).”
Spartans (5th, 75.925) made it eight consecutive seasons with a top-five finish Tuesday night, at the culmination of a season of change and growth within the oldest active Open Class corps. The New Hampshire corps earned third-place scores in color guard and percussion.
“We started off this season with a huge number of new people, and as we progressed we really grew a lot,” drum major Matt Vayanos said. “This was the longest tour we've ever done and the most rehearsal we've ever had so it was a huge learning experience.”
Earning the honor of 2017's “Most Improved,” an award voted on by Open Class corps directors, the Louisiana Stars posted their highest placement ever with a score of 73.213, good for sixth. The corps finished ninth last season in its very first trip to Michigan City.
“I think winning ‘Most Improved' just shows that we're a hard-working corps and we love what we do,” Louisiana Stars drum major Tara Baker said. “It hasn't really been a day of true work because we've just enjoyed it and taking it for what it is, and just doing the best we can always.”
Representing southern California at the Open Class Finals, Gold (7th, 72.750) improved by one placement from the last two seasons in which it finished eighth. Now, with hopeful eyes on a first-ever spot among the top-25 corps that advance to the DCI Semifinals in Indianapolis, the focus for Gold shifts to Lucas Oil Stadium and Thursday's World Championship Prelims.
“There was so much energy on the field, everyone did amazing today,” Gold drum major Sofia Vaides said. “Now we just need relax, we know what we can do on the field and we know that we can do what we did tonight on Thursday and hopefully Friday.”
7th Regiment kept a significant gap between itself and the rest of the pack for eighth place, earning a score of 72.000. The Connecticut corps posted strong visual scores, defeating Gold by a slim margin of 0.125 in the overall visual caption.
“We had a lot of energy yesterday, but it was individual energy,” said Lily Pollard, a marimba player for 7th Regiment. “We were a whole corps tonight, and it felt so good to get to the end of our show and just feel satisfied with every note we played.”
In just their first trip to Michigan City after reforming as an Open Class corps in 2015, Southwind (9th, 70.125) earned a spot among 2017's top 10. After finishing just 0.125 off of the Guardians in Monday's Prelims, Southwind made the jump into ninth thanks to a substantial advantage in overall general effect.
According to tuba player David Kersey, the corps couldn't have had such rapid success without the help of those who came before in them in the previous iterations of the Southwind organization.
“I would attribute our success to the alumni association,” he said. “It's been such a journey in this ‘rebuilding of the Colossus.' Everybody from the Kentucky corps and the Montgomery corps form back in the day have all come together financially, as volunteers, and to help spread the word about us. They've been there to pick us up and help us grow.”
“This show is so much fun,” said Andrew Fruje, a member of Guardians' snare drum line. “It makes me really proud to be a part of a corps that's doing an innovative show, and it's awesome to be a part of a corps where we compete against ourselves and push ourselves to be the best that we can be.“
For 11th-place River City Rhythm, 2017 marked a year of improvement as the corps moved up one slot from last year's placement. With a score of 67.688, the Minnesota corps posted strong numbers in percussion, a caption in which it finished eighth.
“It was fantastic, that was our best show to date and it looks like everyone felt good about it all around,” drum major Peyton Grunzke said. “I'm really proud of the progress that we've made this season.”
Rounding out the top 12, Raiders — which has never missed an Open Class Finals — earned a score of 64.975, while defeating River City Rhythm in the color guard caption.
“That was our best run by far,,” Raiders drum major Katherine Basley said. “Our season started off a little bit shaky but it's been an amazing run. I'm so proud of where we've been and where we are now.”
For THE COMPANY — this year's British addition to the World Championships, which has won four Drum Corps Europe titles — earning the title of International Class Champion with a score of 72.325 ahead of their first appearance at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis was a welcome addition to their growing list of accolades.
“The great thing about these guys is they consistently put out top notch shows, they bring more and more energy each time,” drum major Daniel Gannaway-Pitts said. “Being at the top of International Class isn't new for us, we've been seeded first in DCE and Drum Corps United Kingdom, current champions in both, but we take that lead with pride and that's what this organization is about.”
All 13 finalist corps, as well as four more that competed in Monday's Open Class Prelims event, will be headed to Indianapolis for the pinnacle of the 2017 DCI Tour, the DCI World Championships, which kick off Thursday morning at Lucas Oil Stadium.