They never stopped fighting, and they earned what they accomplished.
Brenda Kelly said that’s what she will remember about the students who made up 2017-2018 Cathedral High School Cheerleading as much as their very memorable season.
The squad’s objective in 2018: To return to the final round of the national championships, a level the program missed the previous season.
The squad accomplished that objective, advancing through preliminaries and semifinals of the UCA National High School Cheerleading Championship at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida, on February 10-11.
It finished 15th in the final after a late fall in the pyramid at the end of the routine.
“The full goal was to get to finals,” said Kelly, the program’s long-time director. “Anything we did after that was going to be the cherry on top. They absolutely reached their goal for the season and did really, really well.”
The Irish advanced to the national tournament with a seventh-place finish in the small varsity division at the UCA’s Bluegrass Regional Championships, a difficult event that historically features multiple teams that finish among the top teams in the nation.
“It’s a very competitive, very difficult regional,” Kelly said. “They really had a great performance at the Bluegrass. They were very happy coming out of it.”
Irish Cheerleading in 2018 featured a determined group of upperclassmen that entered the year with comparatively little varsity experience after 12 seniors graduated from the 2017 squad that missed the national finals.
“It wasn’t that we were young; it was that we didn’t have a lot of competitive experience,” Kelly said. “The Bluegrass was highly competitive, and finishing where we did was a great accomplishment.
“We did one other competition before that. We did not do well. It was a definite learning experience for the girls and that’s how we took it – as a learning experience to get you on the map and get ready for Bluegrass. We went on from there.”
Kelly said the experience of three returners – senior Lauren Kaplan, senior Kaelyn Knox and junior Gretchen Tull – was key throughout the season:
“They were extremely important to the success of the team,” Kelly said. “Their leadership was definitely an impact for the team. They took the responsibility, and did an excellent job preparing the team, helping the team and getting them right.”
Kelly said the season wasn’t always smooth. The young team took time to reach its full potential, but a strong postseason showed remarkable growth.
“The team was elated at their accomplishment,” Kelly said. “We were so happy for the girls. They had some issues with composure and being in front of a crowd. They definitely had to overcome that to make it to the finals, so we were elated with them and their accomplishment and so very, very proud.”
Kaplan, Knox and Tull were far from the only reasons for the Irish’s ’18 success. A slew of girls making their first appearance at the regional and national high school level also were key.
Senior Reagan Toole was named the program’s Most Valuable Player for the season, and senior Erin Aolan also was a key contributor for a season that developed throughout the season.
“There was huge growth this year,” Kelly said. “They worked really well as a team. They were very positive and didn’t really have any issues getting along or that type of thing. They were all very positive as far as their teammates. We had a great season cheering football through Homecoming, and all of those things went really well.”
Kelly said the 2017-2018 team handled the turnaround from football season to the competition portion of the schedule well.
“When these girls finish football, they turn directly to competitive and finish the year competing,” Kelly said. “We practice three or four days a week and have other responsibilities. I’ll remember this team as fighters and girls who stuck together went after their goal and accomplished it.
“They set a goal, they accomplished it and fought for it. I’m proud of them. It would have been easy when you were in showcases and struggled to give up. They never gave up. I’m really proud of the fact that they kept fighting.
“They had a goal and they kept believing in each other and they got there.”
As for the future, Kelly said it looks strong – provided the program continues to follow the example set by past Irish Cheerleading teams.
“It’s about team chemistry, your goals and what you want to accomplish,” Kelly said. “If they set those goals and work to accomplish them, I believe they can achieve them.”