MANATEE — After going undefeated in all its cheerleading competitions this year, including winning its first Florida state Class 2A championship Friday, the Manatee High School team is headed to nationals this week at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Disney World.
The 2013 National High School Cheerleading Championship is set for Feb. 9-10, and Manatee is hoping for a top-10 finish. But there was also a moment Sunday for relishing the new state championship.
“I am so proud of these girls. They worked so incredibly hard. They performed a flawless routine,” coach Kelly Althof said. That’s unlike the state title showdown in 2012, when the Manatee cheerleaders returned to Bradenton dissatisfied with their performance.
“We were state runners ups to Orlando Boone High School the last two years. This year, we were ready to go and to take the title home,” said co-captain Lauren Stewart, a senior.
Althof brought a 30-member team, including 17 seniors, to the state competition this year at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee to best nine other teams in the Class 2A Extra Large Division.
Manatee outscored Lake Mary 84.475-82.272 to win the state final.
“This is a different, more mature team. They have never lost a competition,” Althof said.
Preparations for the nationals will be the same as what prepared Manatee to take bragging rights at the Manatee County Fair against Lakewood Ranch and Braden River and then move on to win a state title: full out performance of their routine three times a practice.
“This week, we’ll be going all out. It will be intense and hard,” Stewart said.
Team captain Olivia Sousa hopes to keep the momentum going, but she noted that competition at this level is “really hard, and the teams are really good.”
A senior, Sousa said that this is her cheerleading swan song. “I would like to end on a good note,” she said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1