EHS CHEER - SECOND IN STATE: Squad has much to cheer about

This isn’t grandma’s era of yell leaders. It’s not even mom’s pep squad. Cheerleading has evolved into a competitive, electrically-charged routine of cheering, tumbling, aerial stunts and dance with Enumclaw High sitting near the top of the pyramid.

“We’re still focusing on our job, which is to build spirit and lead cheers,” coach Kim Westerberg said. “We know that’s our No. 1 job, but we’re having a lot of fun competing and being successful.”

The Hornets placed second at the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association state championships Saturday, three points behind North Thurston, a team they beat twice during qualifying. For the Hornets, falling short of a state title is disappointing, but a long way from six years ago when judges would write “painfully slow” on the score sheet.

“We’re starting to turn heads,” said Westerberg, a former high school gymnast and college cheerleader. “This is my ninth year at Enumclaw and I’m having the time of my life this year.”

“This is kind of the year we’ve really turned it around,” said EHS senior captain David Brazier, who has been on the team for three years. “It’s been nice. We’ve started to figure things out.”

“We’re starting to click,” Sarah Lurry said. She is also a three-year member, senior and captain.

Similar to ice skating, judges score cheer teams on routines which must include components like dance, cheer and tumbling. Each routine is 2 1/2 minutes in length. Teams are broken into small, medium, large, super large, coed and non-tumbling. Since EHS’s 23-member team includes six males, the Hornets compete in coed, which generally has no classification distinctions.

Westerberg said more and more teams are competing.

“It’s where high school cheer is,” she said.

“It definitely has changed,” Lurry said. “It’s more gymnastics based.”

Which is good for Lurry, who along with many of her teammates also compete for EHS’s recently formed gymnastics team. Most of Enumclaw’s members participate in other sports – diving, judo, tennis, and four of the guys on the squad come from the Hornets’ football team.

“They bring a lot to the team,” Westerberg said of the men. “And we are so talented because of them.”

“It’s more of a sport than it ever has been,” Lurry said.

“It’s really annoying to hear cheer is not a sport,” senior captain Sheridan Lewis said.

Westerberg said her team is in tip-top aerobic condition and their strength is impressive, but the team still fights the stereotypes.

“Stunting is like the cool part,” Lewis said of the basket tosses, flying and leg lifts. “Once they see it, they don’t make fun of us.”

“I came to one practice and was hooked,” said Devon Merryfield, a fellow football player who was recruited by Brazier a year ago. “It was challenging.

“We’re all family. We all look out for each other.”

The Hornets started tasting success during summer camp at the University of Washington where they cleaned up in the awards.

The squad earned its spot at state by finishing third among 32 teams at a qualifier in Kent. Perennial favorite Kentwood won the competition and Skyline was second.

“We finally got over 200 points,” Lewis said. “No Enumclaw team has ever gotton over 200 points in any competition.”

The Hornets cleared the 200 mark again Saturday finishing with 207 to North Thurston’s 210.

Earlier in the season, EHS finished second to Heritage by five points.

For the first time, this season Enumclaw did not have to compete against the larger Kentwood, Skyline or Heritage at state, but instead competed with coed teams in their 3A classification.

Even so, Kentwood is the team to beat. The Conquerors have three different competitive teams, plus a separate sideline cheer squad, and five coaches. Most of the girls are on club teams, too. The team hires choreographers and has elaborate practice facilities.

Enumclaw has Westerberg and practices on a mat on the basketball court in the gym or squeezed behind the bleachers.

“It’s definitely noticeable to see the time they spend on it,” Lurry said.

“We’re bringing up our level of competition without all that big expense,” Brazier said.

“Every year we get better, but Kentwood, Skyline and Heritage get better,” Westerberg said. “We are one of the top teams in the state, but we have a long way to go to catch the top teams.”

But the program continues to grow. Sixty athletes turned out in the fall and Westerberg was able to keep less than half.

This squad will graduate a talented bunch. Westerberg anticipates a handful will take their skills to the collegiate level.

“I want to push them to see college cheer as a possibility,” she said. “Five from this team are expected to make Division 1 teams in the fall.

“Any coach’s job is to make them believe in themselves,” Westerburg said.

The Hornets step back on the mat Saturday as they host junior cheer camp.

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