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August 15, 20l8 Page 17 Cheer Dogs take aim at By Richard Dumas torsyth©mymcrnet Fresh off the prograrn’s ’ best-ever finish in 2017, the Mary Persons varsity com- petition cheerleading squad is poised for even bigger success in 2018. With 13 returners back from a squad that finished fifth in AAAA a year ago, fifth—year MP competition coach Kyle Ward said he expects even more out of his team this year. “We have more talent this year, so our expectations are even higher,” Ward said “That’s the only challenging part to being successful is the next year, your expectations have to go up. They can’t go down. And so me as a coach, our expectation is to do bet- ter. And I think we have that in us. Now the challenging part, which all coaches in all sports face this same exact challenge, is keeping your kids healthy. Charlemagne? Ward Said ‘ZQn-a , , . . score sheet in’orderto ’ is just like football, if I lose “ one or two key players it changes the entire dynamic of everything.” Ward said despite placing fifth at state last November, his team didn’t execute its program flawlessly. He speculated that if MP had performed as well at state as it did in winning the program’s second region championship a week prior, then MP could have finished as high as runner—up to first- .place Chapel Hill. “We only had one team that hit, which ended up being the state champi- ons,” Ward said. “And the rest of the teams, includ- ing us, didn’t hit. We had- a mistake. Ifwe wouldn’t have had that mistake, we could’ve been second place I believe. I don’t believe we would’ve won first. And we beat Chapel Hill in a regular season competition. They were good then, but they had some mistakes at the regular season competition. But watching them, I knew they were good and if they hit they were gonna do well. Some Other teams that were really good, if they would’ve hit they probably would’ve come out first. But that’s how cheerleading is. That’s how ' any sport is. Ifyou show up one night and another team doesn’t, that’s kind of how the results fall. I was extremely pleased with that. Our team was pleased. Being fifth felt good, but it would’ve felt better if we had hit our routine, if you had been able to fire on all cylinders and do really well and still come out fifth. But then you’re gonna live this whole next year with, ‘What if we would have hit?’ That ‘what if’ factor keeps coaches up at night thinking.” Ward said his cheerlead— ers’ skill—levels, particularly tumbling, are so high this year that he’s been able to increase the difficulty of MP’s program to allow the Cheer Dogs to compete for maximum scores, increasing MP’s chances of reaching the top spot at state. “This year we have that out'your score, you have to have all the elements that Georgia High School says you must have on it to be at an advanced level. And we’ve never been able to do that in the tumbling category. We’ve been really close in the stunt category to being able to do that, but even in the stunt we’ve always been one or two points behind of us being able to max out that score sheet. This year based on the routine that we have, which we’re still early on and we’re. still practicing, but we’ve maxed it out. We’ve maxed out standing tumbling. We’ve maxed out the entire points sCale.” With the highest possible score being 110, Ward said MP almost reached 96 in its season—best region champi— onship performance. He said by season’s end in 2017, the Cheer Dogs were virtually . flawless in their performance but their starting score wasn’t high enough for MP to score much higher. With a higher starting score this time around‘Ward has his eyes set squarely on loftier goals. “Some coaches don’t like to talk about state champi— SUNNY prvm: Mark l2:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ons, state champions, state champions,” Ward said “And I understand the premise. Especially in football, you’ve got to go game to game to game. But for me, if I can get those girls to buy into that vision that we are good enough, let’s just continue to work hard and continue to do whatever it takes to get to that next level to be considered one of those great teams. Not just, ‘Man, they’re good when they hit’ I wanna be, ‘Man, they’re great.’ You want to be able to hit a rou- tine and not leave it in the judges’ hands. You wanna be able to max out the score sheet to where you know you maxed out. So they can’t take those points from you And then hit a routine where they can’t be as subjective. When you leave it up in the air, you don’t know what you’re going to get from some of these judges. That’s just how it works. So we’re gonna a work hard I’ve tried to in my girls the mindset of we ‘ have the chance to be state champions.” With 18 quality cheerlead- ers, Ward said he’s expecting to put 16 on the mat at state this year, including four full stunt groups. Ward said last year was the first season that he’s been able to have four stunt groups, settling for three in his first three seasons. “Right now we have four groups and we’re going strong,” Ward said “Putting two groups together is never a problem. Putting that third group together, sometimes when you start working on ~ stunts these first two groups have got it really good, that third group sometimes struggles and that fourth group you’re working with all year. Luckily last year before the first competition I had all four groups doing the skills that they needed That’s the hard part with state is we dropped a skill that we hadn’t dropped all year. It’s kind of like practic- ing or performing a football game in your Mary Persons stadium all year, and then you’ve got to go play state at the Mercedes—Benz Stadium. It’s just the environment is so much different that it’s hard to get that focus in. We don’t have a first quarter, second quarter or a halftime to get it together. You have two-and— a—half minutes.” Among MP’s 13 return- ers are three experienced seniors: Taniyah Dewberry, Nakayla Jackson and Macy Morris, each of whom are beginning at least their third season on varsity. Ward said Dewberry, an expert backspot, is perhaps the strongest female athlete he has ever coached Ward said Dewberry has worked hard to improve her tum— bling but her greatest talent is as a base. The versatile Jackson is skilled both as a base and as a flyer and is one of the team’s most consistent per- formers. “She’s a really good leader I believe,” Ward said “She’s outspoken, and people followher. She hasreally .' ‘ good standing tumbling, really Consistent standing tumbling, and I think she’s a really good asset to have. She’s probably the shortest girl on our entire team. She’s extremely short, and she’s done some basing and flying. And once again, she’s going to do the majority basing this year, but at one point in the routine we have to have fivestuntsintheainandin order to put five stunts in the air you have to have only two bases. And she’ll be flying in one of those.” Morris, the lone fourth- year senior, is one of the team’s most talented per- formers, having overcome an ACL tear that prevented her from competing a year ago. “She is extremely skilled, one of our best tumblers on the team, one of our best jumpers,” Ward said of Morris. “As far as talent is concerned she’s probably one of the best that we’ve had here in our program. And so it’s nice to have her this year, especially since it’s her senior year. She’s good enough where she has the ambitions of going on and trying out at the University of Georgia MARY PERSONS 2018-19 VARSITY COMPETITION SQUAD: Pictured from left to right on the front row: Kayleigh Hill, Macy Morris, NaKayla Jackson, Tani- yah Dewberry and Jaida Harvey. Pictured from left to right on the middle row: head coach Kyle Ward, Abigayle Fox, Morgan Hill, Kaylee Gordon, Abney Langer, Kylee Everidge, Calliway Selman, Ridley White and Mia Winget. Pictured from lett to right on the back row: Camp- bell Brown, Tenley Pelissier, Madeleine Tucker, Molly Cobb and Sydney Lewis. (Photo/Richard Dumas) state's elite And I wouldn’t even recom- mend someone going to try out there if they don’t have that type of skill level, and she does.’ ’ Among the team’s five newcomers is freshman Abney Langer, who, like Iackson, excels both on the ground and in the air. Ward said, “Abney is extremely good As a coach your heart gets happy when you get a freshman that’s good Just like when Macy came aboard. When she was a freshman, she could full, she could do a lot of differ— ent things. And you’re like, ‘Wow, okay good Let’s keep them healthy and let’s keep them around for four years.” ’ Ward said flyers on cheer- leading squads are like foot~ ball quarterbacks because . they often get blamed when stunts go wrong. This year’s primary flyers are a quartet of returners: Kylee Everidge, Morgan Hill, Kaylee Gordon and Abigaer Fox. Ward said Hill is probably his most flexible flyer, a critical tech- nique which can sometimes mean the difference between a good score and a great one. “Morgan does a really good job with her flexibility and just selling the stunt,” Ward said. “That’s something the judges look for. There’s just different areas that help you go from that eight to 10 category. Eight’s not bad . You’ll be happy with eight. But 10 is what you’re looking for. And you don’t expect to get 10. Ten is perfect. There’s not many times that you see perfection, not true perfection, because if they were giving 105 away, then it would be hard to differenti- ate from the true times when teams are really perfect.” Leading the 14-member varsity spirit squad in 2018 are co—head coaches Laura Nelson and Rachel Scott. The varsity spirit squad will be anchored by five seniors, Linda Carvajal, Sunny DeV- ane, Kierra Hughley, Alivia Stewart and Abby Watson. Ward said spirit squad members will be making a concerted effort in 2018-19 to attend MP sports beyond just football and basketball. Ward said, “Varsity spirit team members are going to try hard to make themselves present at some of the other events to cheer them on and just to show them that, ‘Hey listen, we’re the program that’s been entrusted to carry on school spirit. We want you guys to know that we appreciate what you do just like we do other teams.” ’ Another change in 2018-19 is the addition of a GHSA~sanctioned spirit squad statewide competition on Feb. 23 at the Columbus Civic Center. Ward 24 r cheerleaders are so MP’s varsity spirit ,d’ V , competition teams will likely team up to compete in the first—time event. “They’ll do their team’s fight song,” Ward said “They’ll do a crowd involve— ment cheer. There’s a combi- nation of things that they’ll be judged on, but I think it’s just an avenue to help those girls have something to Compete against, to get better for. Every state’s cheerlead- ing looks a little bit differ— ent. Football’s on a national platform, so it kind of looks the same. But even counties, the cheerleading looks differ- ent. And this is their way of trying to help lead the cheer— leading in the direction that it’s been going the last several years that it’s a collegiate feel, a collegiate look” MACY MORRIS Varsity Cheerleader WE ARE SO PROQ‘UD‘OF YOU! it estsse r our A?“