Athleticism, friendship, trust, commitment winning combination for Murray cheerleadersApr 03, 2022 04:49PM ● By Julie Slama
A surprise win is what Murray cheer coach described winning UHSAA 5A coed state cheer title. (Lia Smith/Murray High)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
When Murray High cheerleaders Kate Brown, Sky Jorgensen and other seniors try out for college teams this month, they can show an impressive resume.
After coming off last year’s virtual West Coast Spirit Championship win, this year’s cheer squad won the 5A coed regionals and state in the Utah High School Activities Association cheer competitions and in Varsity competition, won the intermediate coed division in a regional and took second in nationals in Anaheim, California.
Brown began cheerleading after doing gymnastics for four years. As a sophomore, she was named JV captain. As a junior, she was the comp team captain and now as a senior, she is a varsity captain.
“I love cheer,” she said. “It’s been an awesome experience and I get to be there cheering on the teams alongside my best friends. It’s been so rewarding.”
Jorgensen joined cheer as a high school junior. She played soccer so she didn’t have a gymnastics or tumbling background.
“I wasn’t flexible whatsoever, so I looked up videos and stretched my splits every day for about six months” before trying out, said last year’s JV captain and this year’s varsity captain. “I have only cheered for two years, but I have accomplished so much. My favorite part about being on Murray’s cheer team is that we have a special bond of trust. We trust each other to do our part so we all succeed.”
That trust is needed with their four-member stunt groups and with the team committing to working hard at every practice to compete. Their routine is two minutes and 30 seconds with a minute of crowd leading and the rest is stunts, pyramids, tumbling, dance and jumps.
“It’s a pretty intense minute and half,” Murray High cheer coach Lia Smith said.
Their first competition was a Varsity regional held in early December at nearby Cottonwood High. While they qualified for nationals, Smith said it wasn’t their best performance.
“We knew that we could do a lot better so that worked to really motivate them,” she said. “Our athletes took constructive criticism and their preparation more seriously. We became a little bit more purposeful in our practices and reps.”
At a January Varsity regional, the squad submitted a virtual performance “because our team ended up having a battle with COVID,” Smith said.
However, even with that win, Smith said the team still wanted to do better. After each competition, and even during the 10 hours between preliminary and final rounds at nationals, they adjusted their routine and added more difficulty.
“State and national score sheets are quite different so between those competitions we made major changes,” she said. “In Varsity competitions, they really like to see variety and creativity. For example, in our cheer, we changed instead of going up to a two-foot extension, where the flyer was standing on both bases, we went up to a lift, which means they stood on one foot and did the same work. It increased the variety in body position and difficulty.”
They also would change dance portions to become more engaging and with sharper movements.
“After getting feedback from the state regional, we practically changed our entire routine leading up to state finals to make sure we were getting the most difficulty in points we could get. We changed student sequences; we changed part of our cheer to be more crowd engaging,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t be doing my job as coach if I didn’t take that feedback and try to make improvements.”
Smith said the cheerleaders were on board with revising their routine.
“We had their buy-in. They could have said, ‘This is not worth the changes,’ but they trusted us, which was huge. With those changes, we really increased our difficulty and from our base score of state regional to state finals, we increased our base by about 15 points,” she said.
The team finished first in UHSAA 5A north regional in mid-January and qualified for state finals.
Six days later, the varsity team won state, beating nearby Hillcrest High who finished second at both region and state. In addition, combining with the JV squad, the Spartans got second in fight song and sophomore Zoey Kiser won the 5A jump contest.
“It was just pure excitement,” Smith said. “I think winning state was unexpected, so I think they’re just beyond thrilled to say they’re state champions.”
Brown said it was her happiest moment of her cheer career.
“We went out super excited and more confident. We worked so hard and just nailed our routine. It was exciting and we started hugging each other and crying,” she said.
Jorgensen said it was “surreal” to win both region and state.
“Being in front of a crowd that is solely focused on you and critiquing your every move is completely different than being on the sidelines of a game,” she said. “I remember feeling so nervous, but excited at the same time. I could feel the adrenaline rush throughout the entire routine.”
Competing without the JV squad and not having parents in the stands, the 19 varsity members made their way to battle in the preliminary round against teams from Idaho, Utah, Arizona and California at nationals in Anaheim.
Even after a year of virtual competitions or not allowing spectators, Brown said she wasn’t used to empty stands.
“It’s awkward when you don’t have a crowd. We’re out there to make it fun and get people engaged, so it’s a really weird experience when there’s no one watching or cheering with you,” she said.
However, that same feeling of excitement after winning state erupted after learning they had made it into finals, Smith said.
“They were just screaming and so pumped. It was pure joy. They really believed in themselves and hit their best routine they have done all year,” she said.
On finals, Smith said they didn’t perform their best.
“We had some uncharacteristic mistakes that happen in finals, but we also were pushing for more difficulty,” she said. “They did a lot of things to be proud of, but while we couldn’t beat the team ahead of us, we held onto our second place. I think there some bittersweetness because the competition season is over and that was the last tune they’d perform together—although they did get a good run of cheering on the sidelines of the state basketball tournament.”
While parents couldn’t be in with the athletes, they watched a livestream and cheered when the Spartans exited the competition.
It's also hard for Smith to say goodbye to the seniors. It was Brown and others who persuaded Smith to become their coach when their former one quit. Through it all, Smith, a former University of Utah gymnast, had to learn about and navigate the cheer world all while dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on the sport and her athletes.
“I’m so proud of these seniors and of what they accomplished through the former coach leaving, through my learning the sport, through virtual competitions and COIVD, of never knowing who’s going to be quarantined and for how long and having limited spectators if any at all, just going through the seasons almost day by day,” she said. “They’re incredible.”
In addition to their titles, Jorgensen, Ella Morrell and Kylie Rosengreen were named Varsity All-Americans and Brown, Morrell, Rosengreen and Alysia Shaffer were named 5A All-State cheerleaders.