Nothing ordinary about this routine.
A dozen girls, tasked with completing a carefully designed sequence of jumps and stunts, shouts and mounts, motions and formations, aerials and dance steps.
All packed into a three-minute bundle-of-high-energy performance for all to see.
On the big stage, before gimlet-eyed judges, teams must be at their very best. And for one specific routine, the Auburn Mountainview cheer team was nearly the best in the nation.
The Lions, a state powerhouse cheer program, came home with silver from the 2019 UCA (Universal Cheerleaders Association) National High School Cheerleading Championship at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., Feb 8-10.
Costa Mesa (Calif.) denied Auburn Mountainview its elusive first national title, this time in the Varsity Small Non-Tumbling (NT) Game Day finals. The Lions finished fourth in the national Game Day Medium NT finals a year ago, in addition to having advanced to the semifinals of the Traditional Medium NT division, where they earned a No. 6 preliminary national ranking.
“There were people, even as we were leaving the airport, who told us that we should have won,” said coach Shana Biggs, proud of her team’s recent all-around effort in the Sunshine State.
For Biggs, the 2018 WSCCA (Washington State Cheerleading Coaches Association) Coach of the Year, her fourth national team may have been her best. The Lions enjoyed an undefeated season and won at every qualifier.
The narrow loss in the final will only serve as motivation for a return to nationals – and to go it one better – next year.
“We were all a little disappointed, but honestly, it’s definitely going to be helpful for us next year,” said Kendra Lewis, a sophomore. She occupies one of the back-spot positions, which makes her responsible for watching the flyer — a lifted or thrown teammate— and ensuring her safety. “It’s the drive and the push to not want to get second again.
“I remember coming home and (saying) to myself, ‘That’s not going to happen again. Next year, I’m bringing home the gold,’” Lewis said. “But we did the best that we could, so that was also the best experience.”
Lewis is among 11 of the team’s top 14 girls who are expected to return next season. Many of the varsity girls had performed on the Orlando stage a year ago, which has its advantages. Many have dance backgrounds, and that helps, too.
So, too, does the team’s collection of smart student athletes. The Lions’ varsity cheer lineup sports an accumulative GPA of 3.8.
Taylor Altick, senior and captain, is the poised trigger. She calls out the cheers, leads the breaks and helps orchestrate the routines. She is also a back-spotter.
At nationals, Altick was responsible for swiftly communicating the right cheer, offensive or defensive, to a sideline caller’s request.
“I have to decide (on the situational cheer). It’s a lot of pressure,” said Altick, a standout student whose performance in the classroom has caught the attention of Stanford and other West Coast universities. “It’s very quick thinking, but we get points based off it.”
Big points came to the Lions at the state championships at Battle Ground High School, where they delivered winning performances in two categories. The Lions captured state crowns in 4A Non-Tumbling Medium, scoring 76.5 points to edge Decatur, and in the 2A/3A/4A Game Day Small category, outdistancing Newport of Bellevue, 98 (out of a possible 100) to 85.75.
The state finish qualified the Lions for Orlando.
“They really work together well as a team,” Biggs said. “They truly care for one another, on the floor and off. They motivate each other. You can hear them, even on the floor, yelling for each other, encouraging each other, which is huge compared to a lot of other teams. They just put their hearts into it.”
Assistant coach Kaitlyn Hanley added: “Each one loves and cares for this sport so much.”
Nationals further demonstrated that spirit, even when some girls were not feeling their best. The flu weakened Ava Andersen, but with the support of her teammates, the junior flyer was able to compete.
“At state, we have the support of all the Washington teams, but when we go to nationals, we don’t have that … so it’s all us,” Andersen said.
Even in the sport of cheer, resiliency comes from within oneself and the entire team.
“It was so much fun. It was definitely a team-bonding experience. We grew as a team,” said freshman Saydee Alfrey, who with twin sister Kylee represents a bright future for the Lions. “Overall, it was fun to experience it. To represent your school like that was super cool.”
The coaches and their 28-member program, varsity to junior varsity, are thankful for the support of Principal Terri Herren and Athletics Director Chris Carr.
The Lions at nationals were composed of: Altick, senior, captain; Sierra Zahnow, senior; Elizabeth Enz, senior; Andersen, junior; Cailtin Barba, junior; Isabelle Zahnow, junior; Melina LaBoyne, junior; Chantelle Harms, junior; Lily Hanley, junior; Lewis, sophomore; and Kylee and Saydee Alfrey, freshmen.