The best photos from the final day of auditions for the 2016 Charger Girls
After deciding to hang up her gold pom poms three years ago, Marissa never fully imagined this day would come.
The former veteran was a Charger Girl for a trio of seasons before deciding to take a break to start her own business. But on Thursday night, she did what few have done, and inked a spot on the hottest dance team in the NFL after a lengthy hiatus.
"My heart is on this team, I'm brightest when I'm on this team and I wanted to be a bright light for my teammates once again," she said after she took her team photo. "It's indescribable. It doesn't feel real. I've been wanting to come back for so long. I still have friends on the team so for me, it was hard to see them on the field (performing without me). I'd help out on game days, but I really just missed being out on the field."
This season, America's Finest City will be represented by 15 veterans and 13 fresh-faced rookies. The group features a veterinary technician, pediatric nurse, medical sales representative and real estate professional. There are also eight local students on the roster, including four from San Diego State University and four from the University of San Diego.
According to Marissa, coming back wasn't any easier this time around than it was three years ago. Having been a veteran, she felt that familiar pressure Thursday night.
"It was a lot more difficult this time around. I knew what to expect and I knew what (the judges) would expect of me. But I also knew that they'd be watching and making sure that I knew what it took to be able to come back on the field."
Veteran CG Delani echoed Marissa's sentiments and added that although the competition is fierce, knowing what being a Charger Girl is like and all that comes with it is something she wasn't ready to give up.
"I've been a dancer since I was three years old so the pressure is always on for me," said the veteran entering her third season with the team. "But I guess this is a good thing because it just means that I care about it. If I didn't care, I probably wouldn't be nervous... Being on the team, you realize how incredible it is and how many amazing experiences you have. You never want to lose that, so coming back each year makes it that much scarier."
Marissa and Delani were two of hundreds who auditioned on Saturday for a coveted spot on this year's squad. After two rounds of cuts, Charger Girls Director Lisa Simmons and a panel of judges sent 70 women through to finals. After rigorous interviews through the week, the 70 convened downtown on Thursday night one final time. They performed two routines – a pre-choreographed dance that they did in groups of three and then a solo, the latter being the final opportunity to showcase their individual strengths and leave everything out on the dance floor.
After a long, arduous deliberation process, Simmons narrowed the 70 down to 28.
"We welcomed a lot of new talent at this year's audition which was really refreshing for us as judges," Simmons said. "(But) our job was extremely difficult tonight. We had so many incredibly talented, unique, gorgeous and dynamic women who auditioned and made it to the final round. We are confident we put together the best possible team for this year's squad."
Talent was aplenty and Simmons even had to bid farewell to a few veterans from last season who re-auditioned. While she closed doors for some, she opened ones for others and said her favorite part of the evening is calling out the numbers of the girls who made the team.
"It's always a pleasure to be the one to call out their numbers and see those ladies who have continued to audition year after year after year who don't (originally) make it, but make it tonight. To be a part of that journey with them is one I hold dear to my heart and it's a real exciting time for us tonight."
As one of the lucky ones who heard her number called, Rose said it took some time for the reality that she's a Charger Girl to set in.
"I, for some reason, can never (comprehend) my number being called," said the rookie. "I always assume it's someone else's and then all the girls next to me said, 'Oh my gosh, Rose! That was you!' I was like, 'Are you sure? Really? There's no way they called my number.' But they did!"
New not only to the team but also San Diego, Rose is excited and eager to cheer on the Bolts in the city she now calls home.
"I'm most looking forward to just representing the team, immersing myself in the city and being part of the culture. I moved out to California out for adventure and since I grew up in Texas my whole life, this is the best way I can give back to a city I'm new to."
TOP ROW (L - R)
Bridget, Blake, Melissa, Shelby, Rose, Lauryn, Courtney, Sydni, Whitney
MIDDLE ROW (L - R)
Teran, Elaine, Kayla Ann, Anna, Delani, Shelbi, Madison, Karissa, Glory, Angelica
BOTTOM ROW (L - R)
Denise, Marissa, Kayla Nicole, Tina, Rebecca, Tawnie, Devin, Emily, Tyler