ORANGE PARK– Highway 301 south to Gainesville will be clogged on the first weekend of February with Clay County cheerleading squads and their fans as six county high schools qualified Fri., Jan. 19 …
ORANGE PARK– Highway 301 south to Gainesville will be clogged on the first weekend of February with Clay County cheerleading squads and their fans as six county high schools qualified Fri., Jan. 19 for the FHSAA State Cheerleading Championships to be held February 4 and 5 at Exactech Arena in Gainesville. All six—Orange Park, Middleburg, Ridgeview, Oakleaf, Clay and Fleming Island— earned a qualifying raw score of 60.0 or better at the FHSAA Region 1 Cheer Competition at Oakleaf Friday night.
Leading the caravan will be Fleming Island, who topped the Clay County squads with a raw score of 81.0 and a net score of 80.25 as the Golden Eagles narrowly won the Large Co-ed Division over Clay, who registered marks of 80.1 and 79.1. There was significant distance between the Clay County rivals and the third place finisher, Ft. Walton Beach, which scored 76.6 and 67.6 points, respectively.
“We wanted to hit our routine with energy and enthusiasm,” said Golden Eagles coach Ryan Andrews. “It was the best job we have done all year.”
Andrews increased the level of difficulty in the Golden Eagles’ routine from last year, making the green and gold the only team in the region that executed “cupies”—stunts where the flyer’s feet are together in one hand of a single base whose arm is fully extended above his head.
Clay put its athleticism on display in a nearly flawless routine. At least five Blue Devils did back flips with a twist on their tumbling passes, and flyers cartwheeled on their way down from their first stunt. Twice, Clay flyers threw roundoff back handsprings on their way into their bases’ hands, once as they formed their pyramid.
“I was very proud of them, very excited,” said Clay head coach Lori Davis. “We had a bad practice yesterday, so I was a little worried.”
The Blue Devils were forced to change a few parts of their routine due to the loss of a junior base to an apparent wrist injury just four days before the regional. The Class 1A Small Co-Ed state runner-up a year ago, Clay will compete in the Large Co-ed Division in Gainesville this year. Because the divisions at the state competition are separated not only by size of the squad, but also by size of the student body, and because Clay’s enrollment is significantly lower than Fleming Island’s, Clay will not be competing against the Golden Eagles in Gainesville.
The guttiest performance of the night came from Orange Park. The Raiders lost two seniors off of what was only a 12-woman squad on the Monday before the competition, one to injury and one to an illness.
“We made a ton of changes,” said Orange Park head coach Tyler Sason. “Our goal, given what we had to do, was just to make it to state, and we met that goal.” The Raiders punched their ticket with a raw score of 64.8 and a net score of 60.8.
Sason was particularly worried about the routine’s first round of stunts, which utilized completely different stunt group combinations than the Raiders had practiced with all season.
“They wobbled a little bit, but they fought and kept it up,” said Sason of his flyers. “I am so proud.”
Sason intends to use Orange Park’s original routine at the state competition, and hopes that with a clean performance the Raiders will contend for the top prize.
Head Coach Lauryn Philpot was pleased with the performance of the host Knights, the only team in the Region’s Extra Large Division. Oakleaf performed a clean routine that featured three layouts and a full twist during the tumbling runs, flyers who twisted on their way up to stunt holds and forward inversions to exit several stunts. Their 78.55 net score included only 1.75 points in deductions.
“We did very well,” said Philpot afterwards. “We had a couple of small errors that we will have to correct for States, but this is the most prepared we have ever been going into it.”
Philpot, in her fourth year at Oakleaf, is optimistic about the Knights’ chances in Gainesville.
“We have a strong and dedicated group of girls. I do think we have a true chance for the first time,” she said.
Middleburg and Ridgeview were pitted against each other in the Small Co-Ed Division. Ridgeview claimed second place despite three falls with a raw score of 76.0 and a net score of 73.0, while Middleburg, which suffered two falls during its performance, finished fourth with scores of 71.3 and 68.8.
“We packed this routine with more difficult transitions, and the pyramid is more difficult,” said Ridgeview coach Daniel Richardson, who hopes the Panthers can climb one spot at the State competition after finishing as the Class 1A state runner-up in the last two years. It may be now or never, as 16 of the 20 Panthers on this year’s team are seniors.
Middleburg, who nipped Clay by 0.05 points last year to win the 2017 Class 1A Small Co-Ed Division, is in a state of transition with a first year head coach, only four senior girls, and twice as many boys as were on last year’s squad. The added muscle allows the Broncos to include “high to highs”— difficult stunts in which the flyer starts on one foot on the bases’ fully raised hands and jumps from that foot to the other—as they build their pyramid. Rookie coach Rhiannon Weiskopf had been leery of one of the stunt groups that fell and was surprised to see the other stunt group fall, but was ecstatic that the Broncos built their pyramid cleanly for the first time in a competition this year.
“You gotta go big or go home at States,” said Weiskopf. “We will be working hard over these next two weeks.”
Clay County’s magic spread to Bishop Snyder, the parochial school nearest the county line. The Cardinals qualified for the state competition with a very difficult routine that included high to highs and “one and a half ups”—a stunt in which the flyer turns a full circle on her way up into a full extension while the base him- or herself twists 180 degrees. The Cardinals, coached by Angi Brannan, brought home third place in the Class 1A Large Non-Tumbling Division last year despite having their pyramid collapse, so Brannan is thinking Bishop Snyder could bring home a bigger prize this year.
As Class 2A schools, Fleming Island and Oakleaf will compete in Gainesville on February 4, while the other four Clay schools will compete in Class 1A divisions on February 5. If the regional competition was any indication, the schools may want to pool their resources to bring an empty trailer to load the trophies that they are likely to bring back.