Troup cheerleaders chasing a title

Published 10:28 pm Monday, October 30, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – They’re aiming high.

The Troup High cheerleading program has established itself as one of the best in the state, and the team has finished first in all but two of its competitions this season.

Now, the goal is to be the last team standing at the Class AAAA state finals on Nov. 11.

It’s not an unrealistic goal.

The Tigers finished fourth in the state a year ago, and they’ve taken top honors in four of their six competitions this year.

First up will be the Region 5-AAAA meet on Saturday, and the following weekend Georgia’s best teams will get together at Columbus State to determine state supremacy.

“Last year, we thought we could win state,” said Reagan Jones, one of four seniors on the team. “This year, I can really feel it. This year, we’ve just kept improving and getting better. Last year, we’d do bad, and then we’d do good. This year, we’ve just kept getting better.”

The results have proven that, with Troup routinely walking away with the first-place trophy.

“Our scores have been a lot higher than they were last year,” said junior Ryan Pless. “We’re closer to reaching the state goal. If we just do what we need to do, we’ll succeed.”

The team has reached a point where anything less than a first-place finish is unsatisfactory.

“I think we’re disappointed, just because we know we’re capable of more,” said senior Kaylee Williams.

While placing first is always the objective, Williams said the main goal for the team is to deliver the best possible performance and let the result take care of itself.

“A difference between this year and last year is, last year we got caught up in other teams, and are they better than us,” Williams said. “This year, we’re focusing on us, and trying to better ourselves. I think that plays a big role in it.”

It’s a sport where team work is of such critical importance.

If one team member is the slightest bit off, that’s what will be noticed by the judges.

With that in mind, senior Kenzie Reeves said it’s important for everyone to be supportive of each other.

“I always say, talk to your teammates,” Reeves said. “When you’re on the mat, talk to them, and motivate them. It’s all with us. If your teammate is happy, you’re happy. That’s what I always say. It’s just us all working together. It’s definitely not a one-person sport. If one person doesn’t smile, you automatically go to that person, because they’re different form everybody else.”

In competitive cheerleading, teams can choose routines with a varying degree of difficulty.

The more difficult the routine, the higher a score can potentially be.

With routines that feature more tumbling and jumps, there is also an increased risk of something going wrong, but that’s where all the work in practice comes into play.

Troup’s cheerleaders have worked extremely hard over the past few months to perfect the routine.

“That’s what we’re trying to do at practice this week, is to just making everything perfect,” Jones said. “We’ll just work on it at practice, then at the competition it’s just there, and we won’t have to worry about it.”

Williams said the team has pushed itself with the routine.

“Our routine is definitely more difficult,” Williams said. “We’re doing good with the routine. We just have to execute it, and perfect it. We just have to leave it on the mat.”

As diligent as the team members have been throughout the season when it comes to preparation, senior Maudie Mae Morris said things are amped up even more at this critical time.

“Everybody tries to work harder these two weeks to prepare our routine,” Morris said. “We’re getting there. We’re improving. We’re getting closer. We can always do better.”

The team members are also comfortable enough with each other to offer healthy criticism when needed.

“We all work together,” Jones said. “We take advice from each other really well this year. We don’t take it harshly. If I need to tell her, you need to do that, she listens. I think we’re all on the same page this year. We know we can win if we work together.”

Among the elite teams, the difference between first and fourth is razor thin, and the team members are well aware of that.

Anything, no matter how small, can make the difference between winning and losing.

“This year, it’s hundredths of a point,” said Troup head coach Amelia Key. “There have several teams that have won by two-hundredths of a point. So it’s going to be close (at state).”

Each team has a 2 ½-minute routine, and there’s plenty of pressure involved.

A team only gets one shot at it, after all.

“It’s right before you go on the mat when you feel (the pressure),” Morris said. “You don’t know. There’s always something that could go wrong.”

Morris and her teammates have handled that pressure just fine, and they’ll be ready to give it their best the next two weekends.

Perhaps a first-state championship for the program is in the cards.

“That would mean a lot,” Morris said. “It’d be crazy.”

Whatever happens over the next two weekends, this is the end of the road for the team’s four seniors, Kaylee Williams, Kenzie Reeves, Maudie Mae Morris and Reagan Jones.

It’s a sport that can be arduous, but Jones said she has no regrets.

“I’ve done it since I was little,” Jones said. “It is my hobby. It’s what I do all the time. It’s my favorite thing, really. Some days practice is bad, and sometimes it’s good, but at the end of the day I love it.”

Morris said it helps to be around people you like and respect.

“I enjoy it,” she said. “It can get tiring, but it’s fun to me. We all work together really well. We get along good.”

Reeves didn’t join the team until she was a junior, but her relationships with her fellow seniors goes back way before that.

“It’s so sad,” Reeves said. “Especially us seniors, all four of us have cheered together, and some of us are related. We started cheering together when we were five or six. And so now, we’re 17 and 18, and in two weeks, it’ll be the last time we share a cheerleading mat in our lives.”

What better way to go out then by winning a state championship, and Troup has a chance to make that a reality.

“We’re very excited,” Williams said. “We’ll do our best.”

TEAM MEMBERS: Kaylee Williams, Kenzie Reeves, Maudie Mae Morris, Reagan Jones, Caroline Blanks, Riley Ferguson, Kaitlyn Butler, Ryan Pless, Brooke Lynch, Gracie Graham, Katie Wingate, Sarah Beth Batchelor, Isabella Moncus, Emma Harman, Mikayla Ramsey, Emma Claire Doughman and Morgan Null. The coaches are Amelia Key, Michelle Ashmore, Karley Huddleston and Tabitha Stephens.