The intensity was high at the Spirit Xpress Regional cheer competition when dozens of teams gathered at AC Reynolds High School in Asheville on Saturday. Highlands Middle and High School teams performed and both walked away with first-place trophies in their divisions.
Head Coach Kristen Huneycutt said both teams did well and earned the win.
“They did great,” said Huneycutt. “All of the stunts hit.”
Middle School won 1st place Middle School Non-Tumble and received a bid to the US Finals. High School won 1st place in Medium Varsity Non-Tumble with a bid to the US Finals. Huneycutt said adding tumbling to the routine includes stunts like back-flips.
Video below is Highlands Middle School routine
The Middle School team performed first. Things were running smoothly, until a slight mishap occurred with the hand-off of a sign, but the girls kept the show running and carried on with smiles on their faces.
“I was really nervous at the start, but really excited,” said 6th-grader Katie Earp. “I was happy with the outcome of it (performance), it was really awesome.”
6th-grader Lathea Watts said it was exhilarating taking the stage.
“It felt really cool,” said Watts. “I was really excited and just felt like I could do anything. If we make a mistake, we rolled with it and forgot about it. It happens.”
Huneycutt said some last-minute changes were made to the routine and the girls had a limited amount of time to practice before the competition.
“This team has gone through some recent changes and all of the members have worked very hard to be successful,” she said.
8th-grader Ashlynn Wilson said competing was her favorite part of cheering. Once she took the stage in Asheville, she said she was thinking about her counts and where she needed to go.
“I think we did pretty good,” said Wilson. “All of our stunts hit. There are still some things that we need to work on but overall, we did good and we were loud!”
The High School team performed and nailed their stunt sequence in the middle of the routine, the most difficult part said Huneycutt.
Video below is Highlands High School routine
“It requires a lot of focus and perfect timing,” she said. “The girls were more confident during this competition and it showed in their emotions and performance.”
Sophomore Zaia Rodriguez-Denardis said competitions get everyone’s adrenaline pumping when they see hundreds of fans cheering them on when they take the floor.
“Right before we went on the floor at the competition, the nerves were everywhere,” said Rodriguez-Denardis. “In my head I always think this is just two minutes where I will own the floor. I’m always thinking about how it will feel after I win. And to this day it hasn’t disappointed.”
All routines consist of a mix of dance, stunts, and jumps. Rodriguez-Denardis said keeping spirits high while performing physically demanding stunts can be a challenge.
“The hardest part of our cheer routine by far, is the fact that after we’re lifting girls into the air, we have to race to do jumps and flips,” she said. “All the meanwhile keeping smiles on our faces and keeping the spirits high.”
Both Highlands cheerleading teams next compete at the Spring Classic in Asheville on April 6.
Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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