BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — All season, the Shenendehowa cheerleading squad could not fully break through at its competitions. The Plainsmen’s first four entries all ended in second-place finishes and the team finished in third place at regionals.
That runner-up label was vanquished Saturday, though, as Shenendehowa ended its 2014-15 competition season with a first-place finish at the Schenectady Midnight Madness event.
The Plainsmen — which also cheer at the school’s boys basketball games in the winter and at football games in the fall — had a young, small roster for this winter’s competition season. Senior co-captain Carly Lisa said the team’s youth, though, was not a disadvantage.
“We had such a new team. In past years, our team was mostly juniors and seniors, and this year we have a bunch of sophomores, freshmen, and eighth-graders,” said Lisa. “That’s a good thing, though, because it provided us with a clean slate and a lot of these girls were very motivated.”
As a collective, the Shenendehowa cheerleaders were all a little more motivated than normal for the 2014-15 season. Cheerleading became an official sport in high school athletics for this school year, and senior co-captain Darienne Hickey said that change affected the team’s mindset.
“It mattered more. We wanted to show our school that cheerleading is important,” said Hickey. “It was like we had more to prove.”
Maria Roberts, the team’s third senior co-captain, said the squad knows many outsiders don’t view it as a competitive unit. All most see of the team is its antics at basketball and football games — which leaves the spectators that make it to a cheer competition for the first time fairly surprised at the tumbling and advanced stunts featured in the Plainsmen’s routine.
“But then some of them will come to our competitions, and they’ll be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you guys could do all that stuff,’” Roberts said.
Lauren Berger, the team’s coach, said the year was a transition one for her squad. The club competed at six competitions instead of its normal four since it became an official sport, and the cheerleading program also now has a booster club to help out with the fundraising it needs to cover costs of entering competitions.
“That makes it feel like we’re really becoming a sport and not just a club — you don’t need a club [to support] a club,” said Berger. “That’s helping us to build up our program and make us more competitive.”
Building up the cheer squad is important for the future. The team had no boys this winter for the first time in several years and the varsity only had 20 team members — a number which put the Plainsmen in an odd spot. Shenendehowa competed in the large-team division, which means it has more than 16 athletes performing at a time, and Berger said competing against teams with more competitors often put the Plainsmen at a disadvantage.
“Visually, it’s not the same,” said Berger. “If you have 30 girls all doing the same thing, it looks better than if you have 20.”
Still, that did not matter for the Plainsmen at the Schenectady Midnight Madness event. There, Shenendehowa capped off its season in style, showing off the improvement it had made throughout the 2014-15 season.
“From the point we started at until the end, it’s been a major transition,” said Roberts. “The stunts we were hitting at the beginning and the ones we’re hitting now are at a completely different level.”