The Bangor Rams cheerleaders practice their routine in preparation for the class A state championship competition in Augusta on Saturday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

The 2018 Class A state title wasn’t only a first for the Bangor High School cheering squad, it was also a chance to join the legends who have contributed to the 104 state championship banners that now hang in Red Barry Gymnasium.

“It was pretty crazy,” said Bangor senior captain Chloe Woodward, now a four-year veteran of the squad. “Our whole school was excited for us because you look up at all these banners and you don’t see a single cheering one, but now you can see the 2018 state cheering banner, which for us is pretty exciting.

“Teachers and students and coaches from other teams see us practicing and working hard every day, and they’re really proud that we pushed through and were able to do it.”

The Rams will attempt to win a second straight state title Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. The Class D state finals will kick off the morning session at 10 a.m., followed by Class A. Class B starts the afternoon session at 2 p.m., followed by Class C.

Bangor has been among the top contenders for the state crown in recent years, but not until last winter did the Rams capture the gold by defeating perennial power Lewiston at both the Class A North regional and state competitions.

“I think it’s been growing since I was here but especially after I left,” said first-year Bangor head coach Taylor Clark, who cheered for the Rams from 2010 to 2014 before cheering at the University of Maine for four years.

“When [former head coach] Kate [Robichaud] took over the program it was growing every year, there were more talented kids who were used to each other because they cheer year-round. They’re used to cheering together and competing together.”

A hint of what was to come for this year’s Bangor squad came two years ago when the Rams ended Lewiston’s eight-year hold on the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A championship.

Bangor went on to finish second behind the Blue Devils at both the 2017 regional and state meets, but the Rams reversed those finishes last winter by avenging a loss to Lewiston at the KVACs with victories at both regionals and states.

“It felt really good because we’d been trying for so many years, and even the year before last we won KVACs and ended their streak so that was all motivation for us,” Bangor senior captain Natasha Ivey said.

“Before, I wouldn’t say people didn’t like the cheerleaders, but we weren’t known as a winning team like baseball. Last year really changed that for us, and people are really rooting for us this year.”

This year’s Bangor team has only three seniors in Woodward, Ivey and fellow captain Alainna Roach. Others on the squad are Emily Chappelle, Rebecca Chappelle, Madison Clay, Hannah Dunn, Sydney Latlippe, Kylie Lavoie, Gracie McAuliffe, Hailey Miles, Kelsie White, Briana Tracy, Kaydence Lux, Haley Pasternack, Tynia Robinson and Hailey Tracy.

“We had a lot of talent on the team last year like we do this year, which helps,” Woodworth said. “We have plenty of running and tumbling, we have great stunt groups, there are strong people all around so that helps us do the harder skills and push through the harder routines.”

This winter’s competitive season started as last year’s did — with a second-place finish to Lewiston at the KVAC championships.

“We were pretty upset that we didn’t win it, but KVACs is like a practice meet; regionals and states are where it really counts,” Ivey said. “I think what happened at KVACs has helped us and motivated us.”

Bangor bounced back two weekends ago to edge Lewiston by 1.6 points to win their second straight regional crown, with Brewer a close third just 3.2 points behind the champion Rams.

“We still haven’t hit it, but we had a lot more energy at regionals, so we need at least the same amount of energy at states,” Roach said. “When we have crowds it makes it 10 times easier to do. It’s nice to hear people screaming for you.”

Clark expects another competitive meet at states.

“We really excel in stunting and tumbling equally,” she said. “The stunts are hard. Lewiston has a little bit harder stunts than us, I think, but we have a lot of tumbling and very good tumblers.

“I think it will be a close match. I hope we both go out and hit so we can see who the real winner is, but I think we’re going to be pretty close.”

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...