Nationals with a new coach: the competition cheer team aims to top last years ranking

Lining the field and court at every varsity football and basketball game are the Redwood cheerleaders. Known for their energetic routines during the rallies and chants during games, it often goes unnoticed that 12 of the cheerleaders dedicate extra hours to practice every week.

These 12 girls make up Redwood’s competition cheer team. Beginning in August, the team of five juniors, five sophomores and two freshmen committed to two eight-hour days in the beginning of the season dedicated to learning the choreography to what is now their elaborate competition routine. They have an extra practice every week as well just to focus on this routine.

Preforming the routine, the 12 girls practice a stunt.

Preforming the routine, the 12 girls practice a stunt.

The team has already competed in the Battle at the Capitol in Sacramento and Slam City in San Francisco, placing third at both. For their next competition, the team will fly to compete in Nationals in Las Vegas on Feb. 17-19.  

“I’m really excited and I think we have a really good team dynamic, which will make being at Nationals and going to Vegas very fun,” said junior Cora Cicala, who joined the competition team her freshman year.

The team went to Nationals two years ago and placed fourth. According to junior Daniella Gomez, who is returning for her second year of competition and third year of cheer, there was no competition team last year because the coach, Heather Long, was planning on starting a family.

On Jan. 16 of this year, Long left to have her baby, and coach Sammi Nguyen replaced her to coach the competition team.

Junior Daniela Gomez twists in the air, while teammates prepare to catch her.

Junior Daniela Gomez twists in the air, while teammates prepare to catch her.

“This year [Long] has a lot more support from the team and definitely more of the team wanted to do competition,” said senior Emery Raynor, who is the captain of the Varsity cheer team but isn’t on the competition team. “I think she’s more willing [to leave] especially since she found someone that she really liked to teach everything.”

Nguyen is a Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) cheer instructor and has coached at a UCA cheer camp that the girls on the team attend every year.

“I think she’s keeping us more in line than [Long] did, especially since she is someone we learned from at cheer camp where we are taught to listen and pay attention,” Cicala said. “We’ve only had one practice with her and we’ve already made a lot of good changes [to the routine].”

Nguyen’s initial thoughts about the team are that they are a very respectful and hardworking group.

“I’ve worked with so many different cheerleading teams all over California and I would have to say Redwood girls are super spirited,” said Nguyen. “They are very focused at the task at hand and work very well together.”

According to Gomez, their routine was choreographed by a previous Nationals judge.

“It’s a super dynamic routine. The way competition works is everything is combined so there are people dancing and stunting at the same time or people stunting while others are tumbling,” Cicala said. “It’s less split up sections compared to the routines performed during at rallies and more cohesive in general.”

According to Nguyen, the team is focusing right now on cleaning up certain pieces of the routine. During practice they go through each section of the routine and make sure each section is the best it can be.

“Since they have competed this same routine, we are trying to up the difficulty before we go to Nationals,” Nguyen said.

The tumbling portions of the routine are the weakest for team, according to Nguyen. Tumbling abilities are skills that an individual has to perfect on their own before the team can come together and use them.

“If a lot of the girls on the [Redwood] team don’t have the skill, that’s where other teams get ahead,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen has also changed some of the dance portions of the routine to stunt portions in order to make the routine more dynamic.

“Instead of having them all on the ground, you see something pop up in the air when you wouldn’t expect it to so it looks like fireworks,” Nguyen said.

Cicala said she believes that Redwood can place, but that there has been one team, Roseville High School from Roseville, Calif, that has dominated in every competition they have attended and that will likely place at Nationals.  

“Personally I want the girls to feel like they performed a very complete routine that they are happy with and that represents the high school well whether or not they place first, second, or third,” Nguyen said. “Our stunts are good and our dances are pretty clean. If we can just up the tumbling then we can place pretty well.”

Raynor observes that the more advanced stunts and skills the girls learn at competition practice are skills they can take over to varsity.

“All the skills they learn in competition we will use in varsity eventually, even if it’s just being able to hold a stunt for a long time,” Raynor said.

According to Raynor, the competition team two years ago was very divided and a lot of the team didn’t get along.

“I think that is what’s different about this whole year in general. They aren’t a mean-hearted group and are very inclusive of everyone,” Raynor said.

Cicala also believes that the team this year is a lot more motivated and has been the best year for her in terms of community and friendships. Two years ago she noticed that the team had a lot of commitment issues.

“Especially with competition you can’t do a large portion of the routine if one person is missing. Everyone had to be committed in order for anything to work and it is crucial to being successful,” Cicala said.

Cicala observes that competition has a different atmosphere than cheering and performing at Redwood’s games.

“I really like that it’s still cheer but a different type of cheer. You have the music with all the sound effects and it’s a different environment then when you perform at halftime,” Cicala said.

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