One year ago at the Rally in the Valley cheerleading competition at Colony High School, Kenai Central returned empty-handed, except for the knowledge of what it takes to compete with the best in the state.
Saturday upon their return to the competition, the Kardinals put that knowledge to use by taking the Grand Champion Award.
“It’s a pretty huge honor,” said Kards head coach Brianna Force.
The Alaska School Activities Association sanctions a cheerleading state championship at the end of basketball season, but not at the end of the football season.
The Rally in the Valley serves as the culminating event for football cheerleading. This year, Kenai competed against Colony, East, West and Palmer, all schools that would be in the division above the Kardinals at the state basketball competition.
That didn’t stop Kenai from taking home not only Grand Champion, but also first in varsity solo routine, varsity five-man stunt group competition and varsity game time routine.
“I have a good group of athletes that are really driven,” Force said. “They kind of knew once they decided to go to the competition again that they had to show up and do their absolute best.
“The morning of, they all had positive attitudes and they seemed to be more excited to get out and perform than nervous. They’re more comfortable out on the floor in front of people.”
Force, who is assisted by Tavia Vaughn, has now headed up the cheerleading program for two football seasons and two basketball seasons. Force said each time her squads go to state-culminating competitions, they get better just by watching and meeting other cheerleading squads.
“Down here this football season, the only other squad we even got to see was SoHi, especially with the fires limiting who came down and what games they were able to go to,” Force said.
Cali Holmes, just a freshman, got the competition started off right for Kenai by winning the varsity solo routine. Force said Holmes benefited from competition experience gained at River City Cheer and Gymnastics.
“She did an amazing routine and set the pace for everybody,” Force said. “She gave everybody something to push for and set a positive attitude for the rest of the day.”
That was apparent in the varsity five-man stunt group competition, done by Arielle Hamar, Karley Harden, co-captain Keelin McGraw, squad captain Rileigh Pace and Samuel Ward. Kenai had never done a stunting competition before, but that didn’t stop the Kards.
The competition had the team doing seven to 10 different stunts in just a minute.
“It’s a pretty intense minute, that’s for sure,” Force said. “They did excellent. They stuck every one of the stunts. There was a little bobble at the end, but they fought for it and ended up sticking it. It was awesome to see.”
The whole squad did the varsity game time routine, meaning Alissa Maw, Emilee Braun, Katie Stockton, Malena Grieme, Alida Stiers, Dulce Santana, co-captain Nia Calvert and Delaney Duck were added to the mix for the victory.
This routine has three different parts — a cheer done at a timeout, a game-time situation to which the squad must react, and a dance to a song that a band would play. Each of the three parts takes about a minute.
The entire squad also did varsity halftime routine, which is 2.5 minutes of dance, cheer, stunts, tumbling and jumps.
Only the winner was announced for varsity halftime routine. Although Kenai did not win, the Kards must have done well because the Grand Champion goes to the team that does the best in the halftime and game time routines combined.
Force said it’s exciting to see how much her athletes have grown not only from practicing for 1.5 hours per day for five days a week, but also from watching and competing against the state’s best.
“I could tell as soon as they went out to start their routine that their energy was high and I knew right away they’d give an excellent performance,” Force said.
Force said the next step for the program is tryouts for basketball season.