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Cheerleading team places sixth in state

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The cheerleading team at the state competition.

The cheerleading team at the state competition.

The cheerleading team at the state competition.

On Dec. 3 at a competition at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, members of the cheerleading team were feeling defeated. Junior Nico Gonzalez-Stuver, a member of the varsity team, remembers being stressed out about mistakes they made in their routine. “We all thought we were going to place horribly,” he said, “but we got third place and qualifying for state.”

That competition was the first of the competitive season, which doubles as basketball season. In the fall, the team has what Gonzalez-Stuver described as a “relaxed” schedule—weekday practices and Friday night football games.

In the winter, “it gets a little more chaotic. We have our practices, and we have our basketball games, and then we have competitions over the weekend,” he said.

This year, the varsity team only competed at five competitions throughout December and January, which is fewer than last year. Head coach of the varsity and JV teams, Deanna Paloian, said many potential competitions coincide with finals and members’ academic stress. “We decided to not do some of these and allow our athletes (to) fully focus on their studies,” she said.

The team didn’t need to compete as many times, either, after the success at Marian Catholic. “Our entire program luckily qualified for ICCA state, the first competition of the year, which didn’t call for us to take on extra competitions,” Paloian said.

Because there have been fewer chances to compete, the team has honed in on competitions rather than basketball games. “The team this year is super competitive. Last year it was like, ‘It’s OK if you mess up. We have next competition,’” Gonzalez-Stuver said. “but this year, it was like, ‘We really have to grind down and focus on each one because (we) don’t have as many.’”

“Our group was hungry to win, very competitive, and most importantly they love cheerleading and want to be there,” Paloian said. “No matter what happened before, during, or after mat time—my kids acted like winners. They support other teams at the competitions, they support each other, and they try their hardest no matter what.”

Another change this year was that the varsity and JV teams now practice together and have some of the same coaches. Gonzalez-Stuver said this has made the JV team just as competitive as the varsity squad. “We always go to the same competitions. We always watch JV when they compete, (and) they always watch us. It’s a lot more like everybody’s one cheerleading program.”

On Dec. 10, a week after qualifying for state at Marian Catholic, the varsity team won and the JV team finished second in a competition at Wilmington High School.

Over winter break, both teams competed at State. Varsity competed Jan. 6 and JV Jan. 7, placing sixth and fourth, respectively. These placements were satisfying. “It was the first time JV cheer at OPRF has ever qualified for state, so we were all really excited,” Gonzalez-Stuver said.

As for the varsity team, he said, “we did better than last year because last year we placed tenth, so we’re happy.”

“This season is one I have been waiting for,” said Paloian, who has been coaching at OPRF for three years. “At times, you can wonder if the constant enforcement of rules and showing your love for a sport are really getting anywhere. This season was a big aha moment that the work is indeed worth it.”

Since state, the team competed two more times and celebrated Senior Night at a basketball game on Feb. 13. Both the varsity and JV teams will end the winter season by cheering at the TEAM game spirit assembly  March 9.

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Cheerleading team places sixth in state