After WPIAL runner-up finish, Thomas Jefferson spirit squad ready for states

Sunday, January 22, 2023 | 11:01 AM

The Thomas Jefferson cheerleaders took it up a notch this season.

After finishing as the runner-up in the small squad division a year ago, the TJ varsity competitive spirit cheerleaders capped their regular season by taking first place in their division at the WPIAL championships Jan. 7, at Hempfield.

The TJ girls were the top scoring team in the 3A small squad division; they also finished as the overall WPIAL runner-up.

Thanks to their strong performance, the Jaguars qualified for the PIAA finals set for Jan. 27-28, in Hershey.

“I was happy with our girls’ performance,” TJ coach Kim Stadelman said. “The girls hit their stunts and brought so much energy to the mat. You get 2 minutes and 30 seconds to be flawless and to make no mistakes, and our girls did just that.

“However, the girls were disappointed to be the runner-up. This just gives them more reason to get into the gym, work harder and do better.”

Stadelman is assisted by her daughters, Kelsie and Brianne. Both are TJ cheer alumni. Brianne also cheered in college at Slippery Rock; Kelsie cheered at Cal (Pa.).

“I have been involved with the TJ cheer program since my girls cheered at TJ. I volunteered as a tumbling instructor in my free time,” Stadelman said. “Kelsie and I decided to coach the middle school program in 2015-16. We enjoyed working with the girls and families in the community.

“When the head coach position for TJ cheer became available in 2019, I was offered the position and it only made sense to coach with my daughters. It is a passion the three of us have shared since the girls were younger. You’ve got to love this sport to be involved and a part of it. It is a long season and a lot of time that goes into it.”

Thomas Jefferson’s team captains are seniors Mikala Capane and Sabrina Everley and junior Julie Evanchak.

Capane, 18, has been a cheerleader almost her entire life. She began cheering in second grade, and has been a member of the competitive spirit squad since seventh grade.

“I have grown to love the sport more and more each year,” Capane said. “I thought our performance at WPIALs was amazing. Our energy on the mat was a whole different feeling. I feel we all put in so much work for so long and that performance really showed it and the outcome of our hard work really paid off.

“Our team is a solid team because of our coaching staff. Without our three coaches we wouldn’t be where we are today. They put in so much and give so much of themselves outside of what is required. It is only fair that we as cheerleaders give them just as much.”

The TJ senior has a 3.8 GPA, plans to major in early education in college, and is a member of Big Jag Little Cub program at the high school.

“High schoolers write letters to elementary school students and at the end of the year we meet our Little Cubs and have activities planned for a whole day with them,” Capane said.

Everley also has been a cheerleader since the second grade and has “loved it ever since.” She is 18 and comes from a large family with five brothers.

“I feel we killed it (at the WPIAL finals) and went onto the mat with confidence in all our skills,” Everley said. “Obviously, every team can put more onto the mat, but I am very proud of how we performed. We will only go up from here and do better each time.”

Everley has been a competitive cheerleader since the eighth grade.

“My coach Bri convinced me to do it,” she said.

Evanchak, meanwhile, believes all the hard work by the TJ cheerleaders yielded great dividends.

“I’m extremely proud of the team’s performance at the WPIAL finals,” she said. “The amount of time, dedication and hard work the team and coaches put into the routine definitely paid off. The strong bond within our team made performing together fun.

“Yes, it was our goal to do well at WPIALs but we also wanted to hit a clean, solid routine which I believe we achieved.”

The 17-year-old Evanchak has a 4.3 GPA, is vice president of the junior class and is a part of the Big Jag Little Club program.

Evanchak began cheering in first grade, and has been a competitive spirit cheerleader since the seventh grade.

“Ever since I was in youth cheer, I have dreamed of being a high school cheerleader, and now, here I am,” she said. “I want to thank the coaches, and my parents and friends for all their support this season. Most importantly, I want to offer a shout-out to my teammates for always supporting and being there for each other.”

Capane and Everley are joined on TJ’s competitive cheer squad this year by seniors Kennedi Kazimer, Alaina Smith, Mia Howley, Ashley Lieberum and Kate Thompson.

Evanchak and Kendall Laboon are the only juniors on the squad while McKenna Shaw and Kaleigh Harrington are the only freshmen.

The sophomore class is represented by Nadia Stella, Natalie Borneman, Bella Kear and Celena Cooke.

Alternates include senior Madison Driskill, juniors Corrin Budday and Holly Neville, sophomore Emily Withers and freshman Chloe Breisinger.

The TJ cheerleaders practiced throughout the month of January in preparation for the state competition.

“After reviewing the (WPIAL) scoresheets, we will be making a few changes to the routine for states,” Stadelman said. “Our goal is the same at each competition: to hit the mat with lots of energy, hit a zero-point deduction routine, and to win.

“We have seven seniors on the mat this year. Each senior is very determined and leads the team in her own special way.”

The three TJ captains — Capane, Everley Evanchak — shared their thoughts on their duties as team leaders..

“Everyone feeds off each other’s energy,” Capane said, “and as a leader I try to bring the good energy into it. Also, I try to really be the rock of the team and push the girls to work their hardest and give it their all.”

Team bonding and team goals are important to Everley.

“I help my team bond and do my best to make sure everyone meets their goals for the season,” she said. “I would do anything for any one of my teammates and try to brighten their day at practices if they are having a rough time. Being a captain definitely comes with responsibility, but honestly there’s no title when we go out on any mat and give it our all as one team.

“I want to thank all my supporters, including all of my family, my mom and dad, and especially my coaches. Kim, Kelsie and Bri aren’t just my coaches but now are part of my family. I can’t wait for my team to show off all the hard work we’ve put into our routine.”

Everley has been looking into doing cheer or track at the collegiate level.

“I throw discus and shot put for TJ track and field,” she said. “I have been throwing since my sophomore year. I also am in the Pep Club.”

For Evanchak, a positive attitude is vital, and keeping calm can have a positive effect on a squad.

“It is important for me to keep a positive attitude and encourage others,” she said, “even when we might not be having a great practice, or a teammate is having a tough day. Simply being there as a leader for your team can unite everyone.

“A main part of being a captain includes keeping everyone calm moments before running out onto the mat and providing that last bit of confidence in the team.”

Thomas Jefferson’s overall team score was 86.4, followed by North Hills at 82.55, Pine-Richland (82.3), South Fayette (82.2) and Mars (79.3).

All five teams received a bid to compete at the state championships.


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