BANGOR, Maine — Central Aroostook of Mars Hill has been the team to beat in Class D cheering for several years.
That doesn’t mean the Panthers, the two-time defending state champions, don’t encounter some occasional challenges.
Coach Sami Jo Allen’s squad had to do a bit of soul-searching in preparation for Saturday’s Class D North/South regional championship.
“If you would have seen us last Friday night [at the Aroostook League championship], you would have been [saying], they’re not going to do anything this year,” said Allen, who has guided the program since 1999.
Rather than get discouraged by their subpar performance, the Panthers responded by talking it through and ironing out their issues.
Central Aroostook demonstrated crisp execution, confidence and emotion with a strong routine that carried it to the Class D North/South regional title at the Cross Insurance Center.
The Panthers scored 67.4 points to beat runner-up Penobscot Valley of Howland (62.6) and outdistance Machias and Bangor Christian, which tied for third place with 56.3 points.
Those four teams will be joined by fifth-place Deer Isle-Stonington (45.7) and Fort Fairfield (44.5) at the state championships scheduled for Feb. 6 in Bangor.
“We had this giant heart to heart about what’s going on with our team, how we felt we could improve, and the girls really showed up to cheer today,” said CAHS senior Noelle Bailey.
Allen spoke to her team about not settling for less than a championship, pointing to the Panthers’ 2013 team that failed to win the state title for the only time in the last nine years.
“We didn’t want that to happen again this year,” Allen said. “We needed to get them back on track. We were struggling.”
“I think everybody expects us to just come in here and win, but we actually work so hard,” said senior Elizabeth Gillen. “We fight and we fight and we fight.”
Central Aroostook rose to the challenge on Saturday, despite faced with the task of having to coordinate a routine with 14 squad members. That means more potential issues and some tougher requirements.
“It is a challenge to make sure everybody’s doing what they need to be doing at all times,” Allen said. “Instead of just one or two stunts, you have to put up three and it’s harder to get that timing on.”
The Panthers squad is made up of seniors Victoria Brewer, Sheratin Kelly, Dayna Collins, Gillen and Bailey; juniors Halee Rusby, Sarah Gerritsen and Emilee Durost; sophomores Chloe Wheeler, Keara McCrum, Michaela Pelletier, Lillian Mahan, Holly O’Leary and Taia Tilley; and freshmen Jillian Tweedie and Olivia Pelletier.
“What makes it feel so good is knowing all of your hard work over the past few months has come to this,” Brewer said.
Penobscot Valley took home the runner-up plaque by concentrating on accomplishing one important goal.
“We were very relaxed and we just went out there and had fun,” said senior Jasmyne Savage.
“If you love your routine and you have faith in your music and you love your music, you’re going to go out there and perform the best that you can,” she added.
Coach Heidi Sullivan’s Howlers also put together a nice repertoire with a 14-person squad that included enthusiastic sophomore Isaac St. Cyr, the only male member of the team.
Sullivan was pleased with the overall effort.
“We came here wanting to have fun on the mat and work their hearts out and that’s what they did,” she said.
Squad members for PVHS are: Seniors Taylore Crawford, Madison Jenkins, Jennah Stanley and Savage, juniors Molly LeBlanc and Tori Watts, sophomores Christine Brown, Lindsay Michaud, McKenzie Plourde, Millie Richard, Ariel Rosario, Paige Thibodeau and St. Cyr, and freshmen Julie Rogers and Carley Jenkins.