By Michael Kinney, Contributing Writer
For two years McKenzie Downey was on the outside looking in. She tried out to make the Oklahoma City Thunder Girls Dance team and came up just short in 2014 and 2015.
Some people may have given up after one unsuccessful attempt and even more after the second but not Downey. The Mustang native had a goal and she was sticking to it.
Downey’s perseverance paid off in 2016 when she earned a spot on the Thunder Girls after her third tryout.
After an impressive rookie season, Downey was back at tryouts last week. But this time she was carrying a year’s worth of experience and knowledge of what it takes to be a Thunder Girl.
Downey joined 31 other ladies Thursday night at the Riverwind Casino for the final auditions for the 2017-18 Thunder Girls.
For the second straight year, Downey heard her named called as she earned a spot on the 2017-18 Thunder Girl squad.
“It is a huge honor,” Downey said. “I loved getting to do it my rookie season and represent the Thunder in such a special way so I’m super excited to get to do it again.”
Downey was one of 20 ladies who made the team this year. That includes six first timers.
“I am extremely excited for the upcoming season with this outstanding group of talented women,” Carter. “These ladies work so hard all season long, and I look forward to the energy they will add to the Thunder experience at Chesapeake Energy Arena and serving as great ambassadors in the community.”
Now that she is considered a veteran, Downey will join the other vets in showing the ropes for the younger dancers.
“I think I can pass on just my past experience. I know what it’s like to be a rookie and how at times it can be challenging and it’s a lot to take in,” Oklahoma City’s Kayle Marshall said. “And it basically takes a year to get everything down but it’s just breathing and taking everything in cause, not many people are able to get this experience so just live through the moment.”
As in the past, the final audition was comprised of three rounds. First was the question and answer segment. Then the dancers paired and displayed a choreographed jazz dance routine.
The final stage was an individual free dance where each competitor showed off their best moves.
The panel of judges included Miss Oklahoma Triana Browne, National Guard Lt. Col. Craig Robinson, Joey Combs from 98.9 Kiss FM and Mike Ipong from Wild 104.9. They joined Paige Carter, dance team manager and choreographer, in making the final decisions.
During the week, finalists took part in business interviews, fitness training and rehearsals to prepare for the finals.
“I’m just trying to do the best that I can do. I know that, I’ve danced my whole life and I know that it’s brought me to this moment so I just give it my best,” Downey said. “What stood out was really getting to meet all of the girls throughout this process and I’m super excited to get to know all the new rookies coming in.”
Downey says she has changed a lot from her rookie season to now.
“I think I’ve definitely grown more confident in myself,” Downey said. “Just having all these wonderful people, surrounding yourself with people who challenge you, you grow. So I think that’s how I’ve changed the most.”
The NBA regular season doesn’t begin until late October. But the Thunder Girls will be busy doing activities in the community and making appearances.
But Downey can’t wait for opening night in front of the Thunder fans.
“Oh my gosh! I loved opening night my rookie year. I’ve never performed in front of a crowd that large before,” Downey said. “So, I’m super excited for opening night this year. I feel more confident going into the season since I know a lot more having my year of experience under my belt. So, that’s what I’m most excited for opening night.”