The road to the IHSA State Championships hasn’t been completely smooth for the Columbia High School Cheerleaders, who captured their fourth state title in four years Saturday in Bloomington.
“It’s definitely exciting to finally be getting recognition from our school,” Columbia senior cheerleader Ali Venegoni said. “Because I think at the beginning, when we were freshman and first started to win, a lot of people didn’t believe in us. And a lot of people were kind of like, ‘Oh, it’s cheerleading, whatever.’
“Now that we are finally on our fourth win I feel like people are actually kind of excited about cheerleading.”
People were so excited that for the first time many watched the cheerleading competition from their computers and classrooms to cheer on the Eagles.
Going into this year’s competitive cheerleading season, Columbia faced the obstacle of being moved up from the small division to the medium division to compete against bigger schools.
To add to it, “I’m sure the kids felt pressure,” Columbia cheer coach Robbie Walters said. “Because of coming in three-time champions and coming in with the highest sectional score.”
Then, Columbia had a few mistakes in Friday’s preliminary competition, where only the top 10 from each division moved on to the final day of competition. Columbia’s level of difficulty in their routine helped them overcome a fall and other mistakes.
“It was easy to be down after Friday,” Venegoni said. “We were given a second chance for a reason and to take that and give it our all is what we needed to do.”
Although Friday’s routines do not carry over into the following day of competition, where your slate is whiped clean, you do have to do well enough to advance. Therefore, the cheerleaders said they had to take Friday and turn it into something positive.The Columbia Eagles cheerleading squad all hit a toe touch jump in unison in Saturday’s IHSA State Final competition.
“We almost used the way we felt Friday, being all upset, as kind of like a fire to keep us going,” CHS senior cheerleader Caitie Clasquin said. “Because we knew we could do so much better. We knew how good we were.”
In just the few short minutes it took for them to compete, the Eagles turned it around and produced a state-winning routine. The second the music stopped and they were locked in their last pose, they knew.
“I can’t even describe the feeling, knowing that you hit it perfect,” Venegoni described. “You are just shocked with yourself.”
And shocked about their accomplishment.
“Coming from seventh to first was a really big accomplishment,” senior Eagles cheerleader Tony LaFata said Tuesday after everything had sunk in.
The Eagles came in as the underdog last weekend. Coach Walters explained that the Chicago schools don’t think the south can compete.
It may be hard to describe a four-time state-winning squad as an underdog, but they did make a strong comeback from Friday, learn from their mistakes and, in Walters words, “went out and nailed it.”
Walters said “redemption was much sweeter than winning.”
For the seniors, it was all they had known to win state. They did it all four years of their high school careers.
“I’m just happy to be leaving Columbia cheerleading how I did,” Venegoni said with Clasquin in agreement. “I just hope that they can continue to have a positive effect on it.”
The seniors hope to have a positive effect beyond their high school program as well. Of the eight seniors graduating this year, most hope to cheer in college.
The Waterloo High School cheerleaders coached by Amber Hensiek also cheered in last weekend’s IHSA State Competition. This was the Bulldogs’ first state appearance. They came in 21st on Friday and did not advance to the finals on Saturday.