Ocoee High, Foundation Academy and West Orange High will travel to Gainesville to participate in the FHSAA state championships.
| 12:45 p.m. January 22, 2020
The competitive cheer season may be winding down, but a few local schools ramped up their game and won some hardware Saturday, Jan. 18.
At the regional competition — held at Hudson High School — Foundation Academy (large non-tumbling division) and Ocoee High (small non-tumbling division) walked away with regional championships in their respective divisions, while West Orange’s (medium all-girl division) finished in fifth-place and notched a spot in the state semis thanks to a solid score.
But the season doesn’t stop there, as all three schools will make their way up to Gainesville to compete in the state championships Friday, Jan. 31, and Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Ocoee will go straight into the finals, while West Orange and Foundation start in the semifinals since they did not score a 70 or better at regionals.
OCOEE OVERCOMES OBSTACLES
Fewer teams in the area have had a tougher season than the girls cheer squad at Ocoee High School.
Throughout the competitive season, the Knights had numerous struggles, including having girls leave out of the blue.
The attrition forced head coach Kristin Johnson to drop her team from the medium non-tumbling division to the small non-tumbling division just a few weeks before competition. It was a change that was abrupt and a bit scary, especially considering that the program had become comfortable in the medium non-tumbling division — where it had won three-consecutive regionals and a state title in 2018.
“It was definitely a nerve-wracking day for us,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a pretty crazy season — so to speak.”
The small non-tumbling division also is the biggest of all the divisions with 15 total teams.
Despite the anxiety and breakdowns leading into the competition, Johnson’s team never wavered, nor showed its stress physically as the Knights dominated the competition — turning in a score of 82.2.
“After everything they’ve been through this season — athletes leaving last minute, the negativity that some people put on them — they said they were not going to let that take them down,” Johnson said.
FOUNDATION WINS FIRST REGIONAL
While Ocoee has established itself as a yearly contender, Foundation Academy is an up-and-coming program that made leaps and bounds on the mat this season.
Under first-year head coach Rachel Carey, the Lions went into the regional with a chance to do something historic: win the school’s first regional title in cheer. They did just that in the large non-tumbling division, as the Lions took first — scoring a 68.8.
“The majority of the skills they hit,” Carey said. “Now it’s just kind of fine-tuning the motions and making sure we have precision of skills from here on out.”
The win was tremendous for moving the program forward, but Carey and the team already have their eyes set on states.
“It’s really exciting, but I think right now we are in the mindset that states are two weeks away,” she said.“We haven’t really kind of enjoyed and rejoiced in it yet. … Right now it’s kind of like, ‘Great, we won, now let’s get back to work.’”
WEST ORANGE HITS ITS MARK
The Warriors went into Saturday’s competition on a bit of a low note after struggling in the Metro Championships Thursday, Jan. 16, which forced the team to reflect and work on its routine.
“We didn’t do fantastic, so with the limited amount of time in between the two competitions we decided to meet yesterday morning (Saturday) to be a little more comfortable with what we were changing,” head coach Alicia Light said.
Despite the tough week leading up to the competition, the Warriors managed to finish in fifth place among seven teams in the medium all-girl division. Luckily, West Orange’s score of 68.4 was good enough to push the team into the state semifinals — thanks to hitting above a score of 60.
Now that West Orange has a spot reserved at states, it’s time to start ramping things up, because the Warriors have nothing left to lose, Light said.
“Up until this point you play it safe to a certain degree... you don’t want to push it too much where you’re not going to qualify,” Light said. “But moving to states it’s an all or nothing kind of thing … so now we really have to up the intensity in difficulty.”