Lake cheerleaders state champs, Northwood runner-up
After a long season, the Lake cheerleading squad rose to the occasion when it mattered most, winning a Division II state crown.
"It was a surprise," said Lake coach Kelly Melnyk. "Going into the state championship, we wanted to go out and do the very best we could. We were going up against teams we had never seen before. The goal was to go out and do the very best we could — it was the first time Lake had gone to state. Going into the event, we had competed in several different competitions prior and had taken second in all of them."
To win the title, the Flyers had to slay a few proverbial dragons by defeating Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and Cleveland Central Catholic. And there’s nothing like performing at the highest level when everything is on the line, something Melnyk says the cheerleaders were able to do during the competition at the Stroh Center at Bowling Green State University.
|Lake state championship cheerleaders--left to right, back row: Coach Kelly Melnyk, Sara Haring, Brittany Ennis, Grace Umbaugh, Kaitlyn Pennington, Makayla Bowen, Gabrielle Matlack, Maddy Eye, Dana Nuckols, Kylee Greer, Ashley Folley. Front row: Hannah Likes, Kelsey Little, Briana Trumbull, Samantha Grudell, Laleigh Schroeder, Emily Pennington, Natalie Nuckols, Jillian Banky, Ne'Shell Neal, Leah Hughes, Corryn Nellett, Madison Valentine. (Photo by Tracy Rollins)|
|Northwood Cheerleaders-first row-Kelsey Smothers, Katlyn Edwards, Ashley Fullenlove, Paige Genson, Alyssa Aran, Jessica Tonti, Amalya Stevenson. Second Row- Charly Saar, Gabby Kirchner, Chastity Stark, Rubbi Husen, Madison Schell, Allyah Haynes, Sydney Boisselle, Morgan Satkowski.|
"Coming into state, the girls were intimidated because of the level of competition, but once they saw Cleveland Central Catholic's routine, they knew that they had a chance," Melnyk said. "They knew that our stuff and our whole routine did add up. When we went back into the warm-up room, the seniors took over and said, ‘This is our last competition, we need to do our very best. We know we can do this.'
“It was the best routine I saw us do. Every stunt hit. I've never seen a routine go so well. They had high energy throughout the entire routine. We were a little shaky in warm-ups, the pyramids had given us some problems but when they went out during the performance, they did well."
Melnyk credited her four seniors, Kelsey Little, Kylie Grear, Leah Hughes and Brittany Ennis, for consistently giving the group direction when things went south.
"They've been the leaders of this team,” Melnyk said. “When things get difficult, they're the ones to look at the girls and say, ‘We can do this.’ They keep setting the bar higher and they would achieve the goal and we'd set the bar higher and then achieve the goal and then we won state.”
Melynk notes that four girls quit the team after the squad had put the whole competition routine together. On top of that, there were whispers that the squad wasn’t going to be able to overcome the obstacles and perform when it mattered most.
“They just wanted to really overcome that,” Melynk said. “It was kind of their motivation to overcome and show everybody. We are an awesome team and we can do anything if we set our mind to it, and that's exactly what they did. They put the goal of going into state and doing the best routine they possibly could, and they did that, and they're state champions.”
Melnyk says the physical and mental stamina that comes with cheering requires a lot of hard work and dedication.
“The girls put in just as much time as probably any other sport,” Melnyk said. “We were here all summer long, running and weight lifting. You have to have that agility to get through a two-and-a-half minute routine — they’re yelling, dancing, throwing girls and you have to get through a routine with that same smile and make it look like it's completely easy for them.”
Northwood building program
Genoa also qualified and so did Lake’s Lemoyne Road rival, Northwood, which finished second in Division III, giving the area two of the tops teams in Ohio. The Rangers finished 17 points behind West Jefferson.
Under the director of coach Naomi Smith and behind the leadership of the five seniors, Paige Jenson, Ashley Fullenlove, Alyssa Arman, Jessica Tonti and Amalya Stevenson, the Rangers finished second for the second consecutive year.
What’s special about this group is the fact that Smith has been with them since their grade school days. She’s been with the program for 10 years and helped to strengthen the Little Rangers cheerleading program with the very girls that she’s currently coaching.
“This is my 10th year and third year at the high school,” said Smith, who credits her assistant Marie Ramirez with being instrumental in the team’s success. “I revived the pee-wee program, the Little Rangers. This year's seniors, they were third graders when I started. The pee-wee program keeps growing. I want to say I had about 45 girls in the program this year. I figured that if I got the girls practicing at a younger age, it would help the high-school program.
“I've been with your daughters for so long that I care for them like they were my own, but we fight like mother and daughters. But it's helped that we've been together so long.”
For cheerleaders, it is not like most sports that last roughly three months. The sport is basically a nine-month commitment that requires plenty of mental and physical training.
“Our weight room is open and we start practices the week school goes out,” Smith said. “We get back to school in September and we don't stop until March. We go to camp and train a couple times per week during the summer.”