The Highland High School varsity cheerleading team returned the program to state-championship form for the first time seven years when the Lady Bulldogs captured the first place in the Medium Varsity Division at the Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association (ICCA) Championships Saturday at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield.
It was the Highland varsity’s 11th ICCA state title overall and first since 2009. Furthermore, it was the Lady Bulldogs’ first championship under head coach Angie Fears and her assistant, Chelsey Kantner. All of the previous 10 ICCA crowns came under Hall of Fame coach Terry Aebischer.
“It was an amazing performance with great energy,” Fears said. “I couldn’t have been more proud of the kids. They have worked so hard. It feels great to finally have my first ICCA State title. Hopefully, this gives them the confidence that they can keep on carrying into our IHSA competitions.”
Fears said the it “wasn’t a perfect routine,” and will have work to do before the IHSA contest.
“We have a lot to tweak in our synchronization and improve on our jump score. The kids are going to be stretching and jumping like crazy in the next couple of practices. It can definitely be made stronger for IHSA. They all want it, and they all have pledged to each other to keep up the hard work. (Assistant coach) Chelsey (Kantner) and I have high hopes for them. It was a great day overall.”
To get that title that has eluded them in recent years, the Highland Lady Bulldogs had to beat out some tough competition, including recent perennial powerhouse Columbia, which finished as the runner-up squad.
Rounding out the top-10 teams in Medium Varsity were Triad, Waterloo, Mount Vernon, Rich South, Bloomington, Bremen, Civic Memorial and Brooks College Prep.
Kantner said words cannot even explain how happy she is for the squad.
“This squad is hungry. They wanted it and they took it,” she said. “We are just on cloud nine right now. This is just the beginning for us. We still have a huge competition coming up (IHSA Sectional Jan. 30 at Triad).
“This put the confidence in the team that they needed to give them the extra push to work extra hard for their upcoming competitions.
“We had some minor errors and some areas that we could clean up to make it an even more solid routine. If they continue to work as hard as they have been, then I see more greatness in their future! Angie and I are super proud coaches right now. We definitely have been grinning ear to ear. Such a great weekend for Highland Cheerleading.”
Two win scholarships
Highland also had two ICCA scholarship winners from the ICCA Championships in seniors Marissa Wheeler and Audrey Kosydor, as well as a stunt group that took second place in the stunt group competition.
“My team and I were beyond happy with the results,” Wheeler said. “The last time Highland varsity received first place at ICCA was in 2009. I am very happy with our performance, because it was the best we have performed yet. We had very minor mistakes that can easily be fixed for future competitions. As for every sport, there are always things that can be improved and made stronger for next time. This definitely gave my team, and I the confidence and motivation for IHSA, because now we have a taste of what first place feels like and want to continuously get that feeling. Our team is extremely talented this year, and I am very honored to be apart of such a talented team.”
In addition to Wheeler and Kosydor, Highland’s varsity also consists of Brooke Arbogast, Carollyn Dinh, Calli Engelman, Jenna Foster, Lexi Gibbons, Lacey Grawe, Ally Iberg, Hope Immingm, CJ Kutzgar, Abby McTeer, Carly Rakers, Leah Sutton, Alex Thies, Bailey Wills, Jessica Wilson and Dani Zobrist.
Rakers, a freshman, persevered through a sprained ankle to still help her team compete for the state championship. She came down from a mount and rolled her ankle off a base’s foot. It swelled up pretty good.
“But she did not want to give up so we learned how to tape real good and she pulled off what she needed to,” Kantner said. “From the look of it, it had to have been hurting her, but she wasn’t going to let it stop her… And she didn’t.”
HMS takes third
On Sunday at the ICCA Championships, the Highland Middle School had a highlight day of their own after earning third place in the Large Junior High Division.
The HMS Lady Bullpups, who are coached by Marilyn Bloemker, consist of Katlynn Buneta, Rileigh Bent, Kaylee Barth, Candice Greer, Molly Barry, Grace Zobrist, Elizabeth Wolf, Sophia Hartlieb, Claire Friederich, Kamryn Daiber, Karley Broske, Olivia Mueller, Isabella Mueller, Emma Ruffini, Jordan Grieve, Madison Noeltner, Karlie Hooton, Kyleigh Haller, Mya Iberg, Allison Reiling and Morgan Flesch.
JV finishes 9th
Also for Highland at the ICCA Championships, the HHS junior varsity cheer team placed ninth in the Small Junior Varsity Division.
The HHS JV team is made up of Alexis Blanks, Tessa Beard, Mikayla Bloemker, Kelsi Dant, Jessica Kutz, Joey Kutz, Olivia Loyet, Donovan Rivera, Mariah Timmermann, Catlyn Thomas, Sailor VanLoo, Alyssa Voss, Parisse Waldman, Avery Wasser and Kara Weiss.