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Seniors lead way for LHS cheerleading team

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

They’re ready for the big stage.

The LaGrange Grangers, who have enjoyed an outstanding season, will be among the teams competing in the Class AAAA state cheerleading sectional on Friday at the Columbus Civic Center.

The top-eight finishers in the sectional will advance to the 16-team state finals on Saturday, and six of those teams will earn a place on the podium and return home with medals.

The eight region champions in Class AAAA earned an automatic spot in the state finals.

The Grangers head to Columbus feeling good about themselves after posting a season-best score at the Region 5-AAAA competition on Saturday.

Now, LaGrange will look to build on that strong performance and hopefully make it through to Saturday to compete against the best of the best.

Caroline Childress, who was a freshman when LaGrange finished third in the state in 2016, said the key will be for everyone to focus on the task at hand and not dwell on the surroundings.

“You can’t let it get in your head,” Childress said, referring to the size of the Columbus Civic Cener as well as the thousands of people in attendance. “You just have to think, it’s a little different environment, but I’ve been doing this every day.”

Childress is one of five seniors on the LaGrange team, and they’ve been a part of some dramatic changes in fortunes over the years.

After the third-place finish at state in 2016, the Grangers didn’t even compete in the region meet in 2017 because they didn’t have enough team members at the end of the season.

LaGrange took some positive steps last year and made it to the state sectional, and now the team once more appears capable of going toe-to-toe with the state’s top teams.

“It’s great to see how far we’ve come, from our freshman year when it was so great to my sophomore year when we didn’t even have a team,” said Kynzie Dye, a member of that 2016 team that placed third in the state. “And now, we’re really good, and a lot of it is that we all get along really well. Everybody likes each other.”

It all came together at the region competition, with LaGrange posting a season-best score.

“We really just went into Saturday focused on being our best and being our own competition and scoring as high as we could,” said senior Gracie Graham. “We ended up getting the highest score of our season.”

It helped that the team was at full strength with some previously injured cheerleaders returning to the fold.

“We had all four groups back,” said senior Caroline Cook. “It was just really good. I think we did really well, so going into Friday we’re in a really good spot.”

Another of the team’s seniors, Nykeria Hanner, said  “I’ve had a lot of fun bonding with the girls on the team, but I’m kind of upset that the season’s coming to end. It did go by fast.”

Hanner’s hope is that the season will not end on Friday, but on Saturday in the state finals.

“I think we’ll do it,” she said. “I think we’re going to state.”

The team’s head coach is Mike Pauley, and he admires how much progress the team has made during the season.

“We started off with a group that wasn’t sure if they’d even be able to compete to now having a group that believes they can be in the sweet 16,” Pauley said. “We don’t really have any elite gymnasts. We have one kid that throws a full. So for us to be at the level we’re playing at it means we’re doing other things well.”

So it all comes down to this.

All of the work, the time in the gym, the hours and hours spent developing and crafting a routine, has all been leading to this moment, and the Grangers are hoping it’ll be a weekend to remember.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Cook said. “My last time going to state was when I was a freshman, so I’m really hoping we’ll be able to go this year.”

Childress is hopeful that the strong effort at region will give the Grangers a boost heading to Columbus.

“I think it should give us a little push and know that we’re capable of going to state, and we can do it,” Childress said. “We just have to put in our best effort.”

Added Graham: “It’s cool to see how far we’ve come this year. This is a really special team I feel like. We’ve had a really good season. We’re ready.”

TEAM MEMBERS: Caroline Cook, Caroline Childress, Kynzie Dye, Gracie Graham, Nykeria Banner, Madison Arrington, Alison Baker, Lauren Hale, Myah Kuhn, Bella Sanchez, Julie Arrington, Alyssa Teel, Ladaja Wilkes, Tessa Bailey, Jazziah Kennedy and Kate Threadgill