The polar vortex that hit much of the Midwest last week left school and sports events cancelled. It was frost bite weather and the last “snow day” of the foreseeable future, but the entire 31 person cheer squad was up at the high school for a four-hour optional practice on Jan. 31 in preparation for the league competition last weekend, at which the team became the league champs.
“This is my last year. This is it,” said Skylar Enyart, a senior and one of the team’s four captains. “And this is the best we’ve ever been.”
The team is loaded with 17 seniors who are ready to leave everything on the mat as their time as Wildcats come to an end. They’ve spent the season shattering their past scores and pushing their boundaries, and they’re hoping that hard work will take them to states for the first time in years.
“Every week, we try to push and be perfect,” said senior and captain Brenna Maurer. “Every round, we’re putting our all into it.”
Just days before that league competition, they were adding new stunts and tweaking their third round group routine instead of going with what they knew. The risk and hard work paid off, as the ladies overcame the tough cheer program in Avondale to win the league title.
“There’s always room for improvement, and while we’re out there watching the other teams we kind of see what we’re going against,” senior and captain Serena Wilber said. “We don’t want to keep anything too simple because we want to stand out.”
“Spicing it up and changing a few things could be the difference of a lot of points,” Maurer added.
The squad’s new head coach, Alanna Weber, said at the season’s beginning that she and the ladies planned to start a “winning tradition” for the program this year. To do that, they’ve turned their morale around and renewed their work ethic.
“This year, you want to go to practice. You want to be better,” Wilbur said. “You want to spend four hours practicing on a snow day, and like these girls are not mad about it…. The minute (our coaches) came here, they showed us they cared. This is a new year.”
Weber and assistant coach Kelli Westbrook put their money where their mouths are when it came to changing the squad’s morale. As the team practices, the two coaches trade jokes with their athletes and welcome the ladies’ input as they attempt to put together a group routine that can go the distance in the post season. There’s a visible bond, and the ladies attribute that to Weber and Westbrook.
“This is the most bonded we’ve ever been as a team – the closest we’ve ever been,” Enyart said. “I do feel like that has a lot to do with having new coaches and having so many seniors.”
But that culture change is also a thing the team’s four captains, Enyart, Wilbur, Maurer and senior Gabby Salas, had to lead. They’ve taken that responsibility seriously.
“I try to make sure I encourage them on and off the mat all the time,” Salas said. “Like it doesn’t matter if it’s school, if it’s on the mat, off the mat, I have to encourage them all the time.”
“You think about the team before you think about yourself,” Wilbur said. “I try to listen to everyone and keep an open mind, remembering that we’re all different people and we’re not going to have the same ideas but we can make everything work if we just hear each other out.”
They say the team they’ve created from the sideline season to now has become a family, and that’s what they’re proud of.
“It’s the girls, the team,” Wilbur said. “You build such a bond with them and you can’t really imagine going through anything, cheerleading related or not, without them… States is the biggest goal, but I’m proud of this season. I think I’m just proud of how far we’ve come.”
“You get to a point where you want it for the girl next to you just as much, if not more, than you want it for yourself,” Enyart said. “That’s what I love.”
With the family mentality in mind, they’re looking to, as Salas put it, “show everybody who we are and what we’ve worked for,” and take the state championships by storm.
The cheerleaders have joined the Wildcat football, basketball, swim, dive and tennis programs that have done big things for themselves this school year, and they attribute that to the community’s “all in” mindset.
“We’ve turned Oxford around for all sports this year,” Wilbur said. “We’ve painted the windows downtown, we’ve just kept spirits high and I think a lot of that has to do with the community.”
“Our coaches and our fans really push us to be the best,” Mauer added.
And for those who haven’t checked out the new cheer program yet, Enyart had something to say.
“Come to a competition, see what’s up. We’re going crazy, and most people don’t get to see that.”