Two minutes, 30 seconds.
That’s how long the All-Star Cheerleading Team from River City Cheer and Gymnastics on Kalifornsky Beach Road had to make it all worthwhile.
And with a routine of under three minutes, the squad became champions at the U.S. Finals National Championships in Las Vegas on Sunday.
Cari Winger, who coaches the team along with Jessica Seymour, said this is the first time River City, which has been open for 12 years, has ever competed at or was invited to a U.S. Finals. U.S. Finals are held at six different locations around the country.
The team invested a lot in attending the event. They practice two times a week for two hours a day. After qualifying for U.S. Finals by taking second at PacWest Nationals in Portland, Oregon, in early March, the team did a series of fundraisers to come up with the funds to travel to Vegas.
The athletes are just 7 to 15 years old, so there was a lot of pressure to perform in that small window.
“They handled it very well,” Winger said. “They got out there and did the best routine I’ve ever seen them do.
“Afterward, they were so overcome with emotion there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Everybody was so proud and relieved.”
The squad was competing at Junior Level 1, which is for teams in a certain skill level in River City’s age range. Unlike at PacWest, River City was competing against the big gyms — or Division I — instead of the small gyms — or Division II.
“I definitely knew they were talented and had a routine to do really well, but I didn’t know how they’d stack up with other gyms, especially the biggest gyms in the nation,” Winger said. “We were able to stay with them and come out on top.”
Just like at PacWest, Winger said the key is the way the older athletes worked with the younger athletes. Just like at PacWest, the team didn’t have any deductions. Deductions come when a stunt comes down, when an athlete falls down while tumbling, or when a team does something that is a safety violation.
“I think they believe in themselves and believe in what is being taught,” Winger said. “They’re very coachable and used all the coaching and suggestions they were given in competition.”
There are 13 athletes on the team. At PacWest, four of the athletes were from 14 to 15 years old. But this time, younger athlete Chloe Turner could not go and was replaced by Morgan Chase, a 15-year-old with previous cheerleading experience.
“We only had about four weeks to get her filled in,” Winger said. “She had the routine perfected. She did really well.”
The other athletes 14 to 15 are Cheyenne Friedersdorff, Avery Hart, Cali Holmes and Sierra Stoaks. The younger athletes are Cara Graves, Jackson Anding, Sylvia McGraw, Ayden Russell, Liberty Lasky, Delilah Roberts, Destiney Friedersdorff and McKenzie Harden.
After watching all the routines, Winger said she felt her team was near the top. But that didn’t dampen the surge of excitement when the team was announced as national champions.
“I’m super proud of how this team from a very small town could go out and compete at a big competition,” Winger said.