Cheer teams look forward to beginning of state tourney

By: Sue Teggart | C&G Newspapers | Published February 15, 2011

 Walled Lake Central’s competitive cheer team performs during a meet earlier in the season. The Vikings are preparing for the district portion of the state tournament. They’ll head to Novi High at 6 p.m. Feb. 18.

Walled Lake Central’s competitive cheer team performs during a meet earlier in the season. The Vikings are preparing for the district portion of the state tournament. They’ll head to Novi High at 6 p.m. Feb. 18.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

By this season, most competitive cheerleading teams know the routine, so to speak.

Though it’s only been three years since the district round was introduced into the state tournament, with 328 programs across the state — up from 148 — the field has become deeper than ever, so vying for a bid into the next round will be tight, as only the top-four finishers at each district advance to the regional tournament.

The first district championships of the winter season will be up for grabs with cheerleading competitions on tap beginning Feb. 18.

Cougar town
Last year was a close call for Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, which barely made it out of the Division 1 districts after finishing fourth.

Stoney Creek made up for it by advancing to win the program’s first regional title and topped that by capturing the school’s first team state championship — in any sport — by winning the D-1 state title.

Their journey shows that one thing is certain about the tournament, and that’s anything can happen.

“Preparing the athletes mentally is always the biggest obstacle,” Stoney coach Tricia Williams said. “The pressure is so high to be perfect in performance that the mental toughness of the team is a key factor to your team’s success. The top few teams are so close in talent and skill that one step in a tuck, one off-time toe touch or one balance check in a stunt can be the difference in the finish of the meet at that level.

“Last year, my team took for granted the fact that they had the skill,” Williams continued. “That was a big lesson for them after districts last year, and they have learned to never take anything for granted.”

When the Cougars, who were ranked No. 2 in the Michigan High School Competitive Cheer Coaches Association’s Feb. 7 poll, head to Lake Orion High Feb. 19, a loaded field awaits.

Eleven hungry squads, including five Oakland Activities Association Red Division rivals and two teams — Rochester and Lake Orion — that were 2010 state finalists await the Cougars in districts.

Walking the line
Williams, who said Stoney Creek is determined to defend its state title, added that for any team aiming for a deep postseason march, peaking at the right time is a key factor.

“If you peak too early in the season, it is hard to maintain for a long time. The athletes can lose focus while they perform, because they can become bored with their material. If you don’t start to peak early enough, you don’t have time to fix all the little details that separate teams at the very top,” Williams said about the fine line. “At this point in the season, it is a matter of motivation and drive to make the choice to focus on the little things of performance and really feel the performances.

“Peaking at the right time is very helpful to make sure your team is in the right state of mind and has the confidence it needs to compete with the best in the state.”

Utica Stevenson’s coach Brianna Verdoodt knows all too well the importance of getting the timing right. Last year, Stevenson, which finished fifth at last year’s D-1 finals, admittedly peaked too early.

“I’ve changed my coaching style a lot this year,” Verdoodt said. “I think the kids were burned out by the end. At districts, they were on fire. But two weeks after that, they went flat. This year, we worked really hard at not allowing that to happen … by keeping each week exciting and adding something new to their Round 3.”

Verdoodt thinks her squad is on pace for another deep tournament run, despite having to face some the top teams in Macomb County in districts, including Macomb Dakota, Macomb L’Anse Creuse North and Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse, each of which won their respective league titles. The Titans, who will host Feb. 19, won the past two district titles and are aiming for a third.

“Our expectations are a little bit more because you have to make it out; otherwise, the season is over, so there’s a little bit more at stake,” Verdoodt said. “I don’t want that to consume them. We talk about autopilot and getting them to practice perfect, so when they go out and perform in the pressure meets, they can go into autopilot.”

‘Prep’ared
There’s one D-3 program that’s competing and posting scores similar to D-1 and D-2 schools, and that’s Pontiac Notre Dame Preparatory.

The Irish, who were ranked No. 3 in D-3 by the MHSCCCA, scored 744.88 points to top their field at the Feb. 5 Southgate Anderson invite, outpacing three teams in D-2 by more than 67 points.

Coach Rachel Woolbright hopes plenty of preparation has primed Prep for the playoffs.

“The whole team realizes it’s not what you do on the mat that day — it’s what you’ve done on the mat leading up to it,” Woolbright said. “We talk a lot about practicing how you’re going to compete. They’re pushing themselves at practice. Intrinsically, they want it so they push each other. We have more productive practices.”

Woolbright said being one of the top-four finishers takes confidence, power, passion, performance, and ultimately, teamwork.

“You have to have the attitude off the bat that you can do it,” Woolbright said. “It all comes with practice. You have to work for it every day. It’s the effort you give at practice that makes you a great team in the end.”

Visit www.mhsaa.com/Sports/GirlsCompetitiveCheer.aspx for all the district sites and dates.