On January 27 the IHSA announced several sports including cheer and dance would resume after almost a year on hiatus due to COVID-19.
The highly anticipated announcement was a relief for many teams, but also a stressful one as there wasn’t much time to prepare for their season.
“It went from zero to 100,” said Co-Head Coach of Neuqua Valley’s Cheerleading team Kathy Tichelbaut. “We went from ‘hey this probably isn’t going to happen’ to ‘hey this is happening’. But not only is this happening, but you’re going to have a state series as well so you’ve got five weeks to do the amount of training that we usually take months to prepare for.”
Back to Work
The Wildcat head coaches admit their heads were racing, but knew they needed to step up for their team.
“Kathy and I always say that it starts from the top so we had to readjust our attitudes and mindset,” said Co-Head Coach of Neuqua Valley’s Cheerleading team Brandon McGhee. “Then it trickled down to our seniors, who are the core leaders on the team, and our team followed suit.”
The Wildcats motto this year was ‘make it count’. The 2019 state champion Naperville North dance team took a similar approach to an uncertain season.
“When we first got the news that we were having our season back we talked a lot about as a team just making the most of what we did have and what was in our control,” said Huskie Dance Head Coach Rebecca Paul. “What was in our control is that we had the opportunity to compete and we were so luck to be one of the sports that granted the opportunity to compete for a state series.”
Virtual State Series
Both teams recently competed in the IHSA state series. But this year’s meets were very different from years past.
For starters competitions were held virtually, with teams having to submit their routines as a video instead of a performing live. In addition all teams had to wear masks during their routines.
“ You couldn’t show any type of emotion from your face,” said Naperville North Senior Brenna Hill. “So we tried implementing our emotion through our chess, back, and other moves throughout the dance that could really show our emotion even though you can’t see our smiles or anything like that.”
Both teams also implemented social distancing in their routines as much as possible because of health guidelines.
“The biggest part is we didn’t get to stunt,” said Tichelbaut. “So our routine was more focused on the tumbling and jumping versus stunting, which is a hug e cheerleading routine.”
Dance and cheer teams also had to evaluate their routines with a more critical eye since they weren’t able to get live feedback from judges.
“I would say the majority of my time when I was not teaching or coaching, was watching back those videos seeing where we could make improvements, things that were going really well just so we could best prepare for that next week’s worth of taping,” said Paul.
Despite all the hurdles and uncertainty both teams brought home hardware this season.
The Wildcats’ Cheer squad won the DVC Championship, and the Huskies’ Dance team won the Geneva sectional. Both finished in the top 10 in their respective sport with Neuqua Valley finishing fourth and Naperville North grabbing sixth place.
Four other local teams made state qualifying performances as well, Neuqua Valley, Benet Academy and Waubonsie Valley in dance. Along with Naperville Central and Metea Valley in cheer.
“They were just so used to let downs after let downs,” said Tichelbaut. “And they just kind of kept pushing through it. And like Brandon said before the ‘Make it count’ was what really stood out to them. They didn’t know like ‘is thing going to be the last time they were going to tape something, would they have another opportunity to tape something? They literally made it count every time they stepped on that mat.”
“To come out and still being sixth place in the state after being transitioned into a virtual world is absolutely insane, and I couldn’t be more excited and proud of them,” said Paul.
With Football games returning this spring, both dance and cheer still have some more chances to show off their routines in this unforgettable roller coaster year.
For Naperville Sports Weekly I’m Christian Canizal.
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