Two-and-a-half minutes. That’s what the Urbana High School cheer team’s entire fall competition season rests on—a grueling, 150-second energy-driven routine during which the Hawks never stop moving and hope to impress their talent, precision and spirit upon a panel of judges.
“It’s hard because you’re trying to put together a routine we feel like makes the girls most successful, but you never know what the judges are going to like or what (other teams) have,” fourth-year Urbana coach Kristin Keefer said.
But the Hawks, who qualified for regionals last fall for the first time in at least seven years, know better than to focus on factors outside of their control. With the most multifaceted squad in recent years—the girls’ respective skill sets complement each other well—Urbana has its sights set on building upon its recent success. The Hawks are coming off last winter’s first county title in nearly a decade, having knocked off six-time defending champion Linganore, which in fall 2017 had won Frederick County’s first state title.
Championship season is scheduled to kick off with the county competition Oct. 29. Teams with the top 28 scores from the nine county championships will qualify for the regional championship (state semifinals), where the top 14 finishers will move on to the state finals.
“I’m never going to say my goal is to win states because you never know what’s going to happen or what everyone else has,” Keefer said. “Winning counties last year was fantastic, and it was a huge morale booster for the girls, but I told them, my goal is always to do better. We want to do better than we did last year, be better than we were last weekend. And as long as we do that, and keep that constant progression, I’m proud of them no matter how they place.”
Urbana’s resurgence did result in an influx of interest in the program, Keefer said. Several student-athletes who had previously opted out of high school cheerleading decided to join the squad this season in the hopes of experiencing the excitement their friends shared with them over the winter, bolstering what was already a talented bunch. Led by captains Kayla Smith, the lone senior, and juniors Sierra Gray, Gabriella Woolpert and Sanibel Adorno, Urbana cheer has all the tools necessary to make a run at the county title, and to qualify for regionals and state finals. The Hawks have the capacity to go for high scoring—points for tumbling, stunts and structures are doled out based on level of difficulty.
But postseason success could come down to the intangibles. The Hawks “want it,” Keefer said. And in a sport where there are no timeouts, no substitutions, where student-athletes have less than three minutes to put on a championship caliber performance, that desire could be the difference in first or second place.
“We practice all season long and we talk before the girls go out onto the mat but once they’re on the floor, there’s nothing (we as coaches) can do,” Keefer said. “They just have to want it and put it all out there in their performance, that’s when they show their level of talent and show the judges they want it. It’s all up to two-and-a-half minutes.”