The adrenaline-fueled Amherst Comets cheerleading squad can finally breathe easy after being crowned champions at the Southwestern Conference competition for the first time since 2005.
A chant, dance, tumbling, and jump routine crammed into two minutes and 30 seconds was eyed by a panel of judges Monday. In a battle against 10 other schools, teams are scored based on technique and presentation rather than difficulty.
Taking home the gold was the “icing on the cake for our senior year,” said cheerleader Ben Sturbleng.
For four hours per week, varsity coach Kaitlyn Bauer grilled the team on timing, sharpness, pep, and volume. Coaching competitive cheer is a completely different world than leading the crowd on the football sidelines. The team has to be physically conditioned and mentally prepared for the intense competition, she said.
During practice, the team banded together through grueling workouts and tiring tumbles. If a member failed to land a stunt, everyone ran five laps or tackled 20 burpees.
Camryn Hyde took a different approach to prepare.
“It’s really important to take care of your body,” she said. “We need to make sure we eat healthy and drink lots of water to stay hydrated so we’re not dead on the floor. You only do it one time, so give it your all that one time.”
But no matter how many times the team drilled the routine or practiced back handsprings, all dreaded a mental block — the inability to perform a skill previously performed with ease, often brought on by a fall or a fear of injury.
Learning to trust your body to flip through the air is a skill that starts with listening to the coaches, Natalie Vasu said.
“You have to trust the coaches, and then a lot of times they’ll just back away and you’ll think, ‘Did I really just do that by myself?’ And then you create this confidence in yourself to throw it,” she said.
Beyond the fear, Jenna Moore said cheerleading has taught her that whatever the situation is, positivity is key.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.