The Soldotna, Kenai Central and Homer cheerleading teams represented the Kenai Peninsula at the Rally in the Valley cheerleading competition at Colony High School on Oct. 21.
The Alaska School Activities Association does not sanction a state cheerleading competition in the fall. The Rally in the Valley serves as the state competition for football cheerleading. ASAA sanctions a state cheerleading competition after the basketball season.
The Stars led the peninsula by finishing third in game time varsity and fourth in varsity halftime.
There were seven teams in game time varsity, with Juneau taking the victory. There were nine teams in varsity halftime, with Juneau also winning that.
The Kardinals were fourth in game time varsity and fifth in varsity halftime.
The Mariners were seventh in game time varsity and ninth in varsity halftime. Homer also competed in varsity stunt group and finished sixth. There were six teams in varsity stunt group, with Juneau winning that category.
There also was a varsity solo competition. From the peninsula, Homer’s Ally High was ninth, Homer’s Hannah Klima was 12th, Soldotna’s Angela Beck was 13th, Soldotna’s Mazzy Bundy was 14th, Homer’s Thea James was 14th, Soldotna’s Hailey Stonecipher was 15th and Homer’s Taylor Fraley was 16th.
There were 17 competitors in the varsity solo competition. Colony took the top five slots, with Liberty Lasky finishing first.
The Stars cheerleaders were able to place well despite a hectic day. The football team was competing in the Division II state championship that day at Service High School in Anchorage.
Soldotna coach Jayda Williams, in her second year leading the team, said the squad competed early at Rally in the Valley, then drove to Service to cheer the football players to a state title. The cheerleaders then returned to Colony in time for awards.
Williams said her squad competed first in both game time and halftime. She said the organizers were nice and worked a couple solo competitors between Soldotna’s routines, so the Stars got a 20-minute break.
“It was a hectic day, but it was important for the girls to be at both,” Williams said. “So I did what I could to make it happen.”
Williams said the key to the Stars performance was stunts.
“That’s where they got a lot of their difficulty points,” she said. “They really focused on stunting and building that strength in order to be able to do those things.
“Hopefully, in the next couple seasons, we can improve on tumbling, which gets us even more points.”
Before becoming the official coach for football 2022, Williams volunteered for basketball 2021-22 and only had three or four girls.
“We’re up to quite a few now,” Williams said. “Hopefully, in the next couple seasons, we can get even more girls.
“It’s hard work and they’re kicking butt. They’re trying really hard. It’s been really fun to see them see some of the other teams, really get inspired by what they are doing, and bring that back to SoHi.”
The coach said the squad was practicing between three and four days a week this season. Williams would like to move it up to five next season.
The Stars had 11 finish the season: sophomore Alyssa Adams, sophomore Savannah Hawkins, freshman Savvy Yaeger, junior Bundy, sophomore Lily Hannevold, sophomore Lynzie Denbow, junior Tayler Ruffner, junior Beck, sophomore Lacy Nye, freshman Zoey McCoy and junior Stonecipher.
Kenai coach Drew Smith was happy with how her team did at Rally in the Valley, especially considering the Kardinals got off to a late start.
This is the first year coaching for Smith, and she wasn’t aware Kenai needed a coach until August.
“We didn’t even start practicing until mid-August,” Smith said. “We missed our first football game and everything.
“I’m really proud of the way the girls pulled through.”
The coach said the late start to the season is why the Kards didn’t compete in solo or stunts.
Smith said all the teams which defeated the Kards come from bigger schools.
“We had a really solid routine,” Smith said. “A lot of girls were telling me it was one of the most advanced routines they’ve ever taken to Rally, at least in a while.”
Smith said the Kards lost a lot of seniors from last year’s team, but also have a lot of returners.
Senior Ella Romero captained the team, while sophomores Makenzie Harden and Sylvia McGraw served as co-captains.
Also finishing the season for the Kards were sophomore Truly Hondel, sophomore Kayani Whicker, freshman Kimber Moore, sophomore Cara Graves, senior Alex Nelson, senior Scarlett Gibson, senior Caitlyn Martin and junior Ellee Pancoast.
Smith said the Kardinals practiced every school day for an hour and a half to two hours.
“This was kind of a warmup season for us,” the coach said. “It felt like getting to know each other and getting adjusted to my coaching style.