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RHS Cheer team brings home state title
November 22, 2019

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Rugby first responders blared sirens and flashed lights in celebration as they escorted a bus carrying the state champion Rugby High School Panther cheerleaders into town last Saturday evening.

The cheerleading squad is the latest team to bring the state title home after the Panther cross-country girls had their own state victory procession Oct. 26.

The cheerleaders won the 2019 North Dakota State Class B team competition and the 2019 North Dakota State Class B timeout competition, held at Fargo North High School. Team member Beth Boucher took the North Dakota State Class B all-around reserve champion title.

"I'm super proud," said coach Ashley Stricker. "I'm not going to look at them because I'll probably cry. But this is my last year with them. It's kind of bittersweet. They went out on a high point, and it was really good for them."

Stricker, who said she "truly felt like they're my girls," plans to move with her family to Warroad, Minn., where her husband will start a new job.

"We've become really close," she said of her bond with the team.

The team competition consisted of a 2 minute, 30 second routine, with 1 minute, 30 seconds set to music and the other minute devoted to cheering and crowd involvement.

"It's a routine that's built and scored on the choreography, the stunts, the jump, the cheer, the crowd involvement, the enthusiasm and spirit," Stricker said of the judging criteria.

Team member Kiara Larson said of the routine, "We danced and stunted for a minute and a half and we cheered for a full minute. I think that's the most involved the crowd's been in any of the comps I've been in."

Teammate Taya Rameden said of the crowd response, "Our Rugby crowd was really good, but it was everyone there. We knew once we did it that we did good because everyone was cheering."

The cheerleaders also placed first in the timeout competition, which Stricker described as "the routine the girls normally do on a timeout in a basketball or football game. So, it's a choreographed one-minute timeout routine that they perform."

Two Panther cheerleaders were in the all-around competition, which scores individual participants on skills and routines. Boucher, the reserve champion, placed second, and Lauren Voeller placed fifth in that competition.

Team member Zarah Mae Keenan described her reaction to the Panther cheerleaders' team champion title.

"For me, (the reality) didn't hit right away, so when they called second place, which was a team we'd wanted to beat for awhile," Keenan recalled, noting the Panthers have sought to unseat Bishop Ryan's Lions for two years.

"When (the judges) called their school name, we got really excited, and I said, 'No, calm down, we don't know yet.' All of us were so filled with emotion."

Keenan, Larson and Rameden are "back spots" on the squad.

"Coach refers to us as the quarterbacks of the stunt," Keenan said.

"We're the ones who call the shots. We say, 'okay, we're going to throw her now; we're going to do this stunt,' and we provide that extra oomph."

The team members said many people don't realize how much training and athleticism are involved in the sport of cheerleading.

"There are different aspects of training, like jumps, so there's a lot of strengthening, getting your core strength up. If you're a flyer (a cheerleader who does aerial stunts), you've got to pay attention and focus on keeping everything tight and clean and if you're the base - primarily (the people) you see throwing - you want to work on leg strength and being on time," Keenan noted.

Keenan said she rode the bus into town with most of the team. "I was tired," she recounted, "but it felt nice to be appreciated, not just us and our coach, but it was nice to feel supported by the community, because we always try to support them."

Keenan said some RHS students lined the bus route in town and greeted the cheerleaders in the parking lot. "So, the morale was amazing."

This year's squad had no seniors, and most cheerleaders plan to return to their team next year.

Stricker said a Minot coach approached her to comment on her team during the awards ceremony after the competition.

"She was just amazed that we didn't have any seniors and still had that much talent out there on the floor," Stricker noted.

"The girls would never say this but other teams really enjoy Rugby, because they think we have really nice kids," Stricker added. "I don't know how many moms told our moms, 'We're cheering so loud for Rugby.' And a lot of those girls did such a good job."

Stricker looked at her team with a smile and added, "They're too humble to say that."

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