The competitive cheerleading team at Strawberry Crest High School can be considered a family.
Just like a houseful of sisters, they may not always get along or even hang out outside of “home.”
But when they are on the competition mat — this family’s home — each team member respects one another and their abilities. They also hold each other accountable during practice and competitions.
And within this familial dynamic, the Chargers have found success.
“When you have 20 females together for a six-month-long season, they’re not all going to like each other,” said SCHS head coach Samantha Moody. “There’s a lot of estrogen flowing, but we tell them that it’s like family. You’re not always friends, and you don’t always like each other, but you always love each other and are always there for each other.”
The competition cheer team at Strawberry Crest is still a young program, currently in its fourth year, but the Chargers have seen steady success under Moody, finishing seventh, fourth and second at the Western Conference meet the past three seasons before winning it all last week.
Strawberry Crest took first place out of 27 teams from throughout Tampa Bay at the conference meet Jan. 22, at Durant High School. They now will prepare to follow that with the program’s first state title.
The Chargers will compete in the 2A Small Co-ed division at the FHSAA state meet, held today in Kissimmee. The format will be different than what they faced at Western Conference, where there was no division of the 27 competing teams.
Because of their one male member, Sergio Valentin, Strawberry Crest will compete against 20 other co-ed teams at state. This is Valentin’s second year with the team and will be the team’s second year competing in the co-ed division.
“He has brought so much to this team,” Moody said of Valentin. “He considers all the girls sisters and brings a calming factor to the team.”
The Chargers have six seniors on this year’s squad — Becca Lee, Haley Ercoli, Lauren Riley, Kristen Downey, Sierra Miller and Deanice Cruz.
“It was really stressful and after getting second last year; we were hoping to win this time,” Cruz said of the Western Conference meet.
Cruz, a flyer, likely will be the only member of the senior class to cheer at a major program in college. Currently, the University of Florida is on the top of the list.
According to Riley, the reason for this year’s success comes down to a stronger work ethic.
“We deserved it, because we put in more work than any other high school that I know of,” she said. “We work every day after school and put in more hours than other teams, so I’m glad we won.”
For Ercoli, who, like the rest of the girls, has been cheering for most of her life, said less drama between the girls has been key.
“There’s been a lot in the past, and this year, there’s been none,” she said. “Even though we may not all hang out outside of the team, we all work well together.”
According to Lee, who has been on varsity at SCHS all four years, fewer injuries also have been a large factor in this year’s success.
“Every other year, someone has always gotten hurt, and we’ve had to pull our alternates up, but this year, we’ve been able to stay with the same team the whole time,” Lee said.
Furthermore, a more advanced and difficult routine, choreographed by assistant coach Loveny Rivas, has allowed the team to reach its full potential.
“We have a very detailed and difficult routine,” Rivas said. “I choreographed last year’s routine and this year’s, and we’ve definitely stepped it up when it comes to skill level and choreography. We’ve set the bar high, and they’ve done a great job of reaching it and surpassing it.”
Strawberry Crest will be the first team to perform in its division at the state meet. It will be the team’s second year competing both in 2A and in the co-ed division, and Moody hopes her team can improve on their fifth-place finish in 2012.
Hillsborough County limits competition squads to 20 members, six fewer than the FHSAA allows. Also, SCHS has just one male member, while some of the competing teams boast up to four.
“We should be a little more prepared this year,” Moody said. “We know we can’t have those six extra members, so we’ve tried to make up for that with our choreography and the difficulty of our stunts, even though we don’t have the same amount of stunts.”
Contact Matt Mauney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
FHSAA Competitive Cheerleading Championship
WHEN: Jan. 31 to Feb. 2
WHERE: Silver Spurs Arena; 1875 Spur Lane, Kissimmee
FAMILIAR FACES: All three local squads will be competing. Strawberry Crest will perform Jan. 31 in the 2A Small Co-ed division. Plant City and Durant will compete in the 2A Large division Feb. 2. ? (048) 736-06-07