LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Laurel County cheer teams received high honors at the UCA Nationals in Orlando, Fla., this weekend.
The North Laurel High School team earned first place in the medium varsity division, as well as being named the first place winners in world school and international cup competitions.
This was the first time the team has won first place at nationals since 2009.
“We have a very young squad,” said Kim Wood, coach. “Our goal going into this was to hit a solid routine. We told the girls to focus just on us, not the other teams, and doing the absolute best we could do.”
Although the team won first in world school last year, this was the first year they were named as champions of the international cup against teams from Canada, China and Ecuador.
The outcome was a wonderful surprise, she said.
“It was our best performance at national level. It was pretty perfect in our eyes," Wood continued. "The awards were the icing on the cake.”
It was ninth-grader Taylor Crockett’s first high school nationals. Crockett has competed in cheerleading since the sixth grade.
“It took a lot of hard work. At the beginning of the year, we really didn’t know each other,” she said. “We just started bonding as a team. That bond helped us.”
Senior MaKayla Vaughn said this year was both “amazing” and “bittersweet” because it will be her last.
During competition, Vaughn said the team helped to keep each other calm, encouraging and supporting one another.
“We were the first team to go on,” she said. “We told each other to set the bar high.”
The East Bernstadt Tumble Cats also took home a big win this weekend at UCA Nationals.
The Tumble Cats won first place in the youth rec, or elementary, division against seven other teams.
In January, the Tumble Cats were named the elementary state champions for the second year in a row at the Kentucky Middle School State competition in Richmond.
The elementary team was formed just three years ago.
“They’ve gotten progressively better over time,” said Coach Cristin Adams. “They worked really hard this year. These kids and their parents are very dedicated.”
This was the first year Adams and Coach Darrin Spencer took the team, comprised of first to fourth graders, to UCA Nationals.
“We (she and Spencer) saw the potential of this team. Our goal was to make the top 3 (at nationals). We exceeded that and got first place.”
Prior to competition, even making the top 3 looked to be a big feat.
“One week before we left (for nationals), we had two girls break their fingers," Adams said. "We had to rework our routine, and that’s not easy, especially at this age, but we hit the routine solid."
The team trains at Damar Gymnastics in Lily, who choreographed their routine.
“Gymnastics is where the foundation starts,” Adams said. “Technique is very important.”
The majority of the 20-member team are third graders, and most, Adams said, have been on the team for three years.
“Starting young helps feed into the older teams,” she said. “And we want to be a good feeder program for North Laurel Middle and North Laurel High schools.”
The North Laurel Middle School cheerleading team took second place in their division at UCA nationals.
NLMS team coaches include Katie Sizemore, Paula Crawford and Susan Tolliver.
NLHS team coaches include Wood, Toni Blake Greer, and Jomo Thompson, who is also the University of Kentucky head cheerleading coach.