The Kenai Central high school cheerleading team. Back row, left to right: Karley Harden, Nia Calvert, Katie Stockton, Rileigh Pace and Kyrie Medina. Middle row: Karah Huff, Melena Grieme, Calani Holmes and Maya Montague. Front row: Emmalee Roney, Kaitlyn Taylor and Kori Moore. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Beddow of BeKaptured Photography)

The Kenai Central high school cheerleading team. Back row, left to right: Karley Harden, Nia Calvert, Katie Stockton, Rileigh Pace and Kyrie Medina. Middle row: Karah Huff, Melena Grieme, Calani Holmes and Maya Montague. Front row: Emmalee Roney, Kaitlyn Taylor and Kori Moore. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Beddow of BeKaptured Photography)

Kenai cheerleaders nab Division II state title

The Kenai Central cheerleading team won the Division II March Madness state cheerleading competition Tuesday.

The competition was virtual this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Brianna Force, Kenai Central’s coach, said squads had from March 22 to 28 to film and submit video.

The video went to judges, then the results were announced Tuesday.

In 2018, Force’s first year as coach, the Kardinals won the March Madness small-squad cheerleading title. In 2019, the Alaska School Activities Association had changed the way teams were classified. Kenai took second in Division II state, while Seward won.

Last year’s March Madness cheerleading competition did not happen due to the pandemic.

Force said the loss of the state tournament was a driving factor for this season.

“There was a lot of determination because state was canceled,” Force said. “They set a goal to win state and did everything they could do to accomplish that goal. They even practiced over spring break.”

Once the season started in January, the Kardinals practiced two hours a day, five days a week.

But that wasn’t all.

Force said the team realized that winning state meant all the athletes would have to stay eligible to compete. Not only did the squad stay eligible, the athletes won the Division II All-Academic Award with a grade-point average of 3.37.

“That went along with wanting to win state,” Force said. “They worked really hard throughout the season to keep their grades up and make sure everybody was eligible. It really paid off.”

The athletes had to deal with the pandemic affecting their cheerleading and their classroom studies.

“COVID has made things a lot more difficult this season,” Force said. “I’m happy with the way the team was able to move forward and be able to cheer regardless of restrictions.”

The competition had two parts — sideline-timeout-situational and halftime routine.

Force said there was no limit on how many video takes a squad could use.

“We’ve been practicing the whole season and working to perfect it,” Force said. “It didn’t take too many takes.”

The two judges each gave Kenai 50 points in sideline-timeout-situational. The Kards then received 33.5 and 32.5 points for halftime routine. Kenai finished with 166 points, while Nome had 142, Hutchison had 123 and Kotzebue had 71.

Cheerleaders normally feed off the energy of the crowd, or the energy of other cheerleaders at a competition. That wasn’t possible this year.

“It was definitely a challenge for them to be able to do it but they pulled through,” Force said. “They showed spirit regardless of whether there was anybody there watching to cheer with them.”

Force said it also was special the team got a chance to cheer for the Kenai girls basketball team at the state tournament. The crowds were the biggest the Kardinals had all season.

According to Force, the team’s success was made possible by returning athletes and upperclassmen providing leadership for the younger cheerleaders.

The seniors on the team are co-captain Karley Harden, Nia Calvert, captain Rileigh Pace and Kyrie Medina.

Pace has signed a National Letter of Intent to cheer at George Fox University in Oregon in the fall.

Harden has been with the team four years, while Pace and Calvert have been with the team three years.

Force said Harden, Calvert and Pace are dedicated, hard-working and amazing athletes who will be missed next season. Force said she is excited to see them flourish in the next stage of their lives.

The coach added that Medina was new to the team this year but used her natural athleticism to become a major addition to the team in a short amount of time.

Also on the team are juniors Katie Stockton and Karah Huff, sophomores Malena Grieme, Calani Holmes, Maya Montague, Kaitlyn Taylor and Kori Moore, and freshman Emmalee Roney.

At the state basketball tournament, Pace and Holmes received Cheerleader of the Game awards.

“Calani is a very talented athlete and I look forward to seeing her continue to grow over the next few years,” Force wrote in an email.

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