Baldwin competitive cheer squad reaches championship goal

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Sunday, January 12, 2020 | 9:33 AM


Drive, determination, hard work, no fear of failing and a strong dose of patience are among ingredients necessary to claim a WPIAL championship.

The Baldwin competitive spirit squad displayed all of the above this season, and then some.

Baldwin won the WPIAL Class AAA championship Jan. 4 at Hempfield with an 87.3 point total.

“I have to say that the girls winning the WPIAL championship was one of the most rewarding days in my coaching career,” said Taryn Madden, Baldwin’s co-coach with Dena Mihalsky. “This is the first-ever WPIAL (competitive cheer) win in school history at Baldwin. We are very excited to finally get a banner to hang in the main gym next to all the other big winners from our school.”

It has been a process at the WPIAL finals for the Highlanders, who placed second and third in their division the past two seasons.

“When it came time to put together this year’s routine, we packed in the most difficult skills we were able to do,” Madden said. “This meant the team was going to have to work even harder than ever before.

“We told the girls the stunts they were doing would be scored as some of the highest if they could all hit, and that is exactly what happened.”

Mihalsky said the Baldwin girls peaked at the perfect time.

“Our returning cheerleaders had big goals in mind this year,” she said. “They learned new skills, started to master the more difficult stunting skills and were excited to be able to incorporate them into our 2019-20 routine.

“Due to the difficulty of the stunting skills, it took the team longer than originally anticipated to be able to perform them. They had challenges to overcome, which in turn made their bond and work ethic stronger. They had to find ways to motivate each other and build confidence in one another to prove to themselves and their teammates that they were capable of performing the routine(s).”

A total of 33 teams competed at the WPIAL finals with 22 in Class AAA.

“We not only placed first in the large varsity division (21-30 members),” Madden said, “but had the highest score of the day by almost six points.

“All the practice, hard work, previous errors and worries went out the window. They pushed themselves harder than ever, and it showed. When they hit their second stunt sequence before our cheer, I already started crying because I knew they wanted it as bad as we (coaches) did for them. All season, Dena and I hoped that a goal would be to possibly win this competition, and when they called our name, we both just stood there hugging and screaming, ‘We did it.’ We’re so proud of our girls.

The Highlanders have been led by a strong group of senior athletes, most of whom have been in the competitive cheer program for four years.

“Our team worked really hard to be prepared for one of their main goals, hitting their routine during the WPIAL competition,” Mihalsky said. “When they knew they hit the routine, their faces lit up the entire room. To see their hard work pay off was priceless.

“It was exciting for the team as a whole and for our senior class, which has helped develop the Baldwin cheer program into what it is today.”

The seniors are Alaina Wodarek, Paige Young, Abby Zuder, Emma Zuder, Erin Fader, Kathy Nguyen, Olivia Lucas, Olivia Przywara and Olivia Kniola.

“We have nine seniors who have poured their heart and soul into this team,” Madden said. “Their goal starting in the summer was to be a WPIAL champion before they left Baldwin, and their prediction came true. I truly credit their drive and determination for our success.”

There are 30 girls on this year’s team, including juniors Lexi Utzig, Grace Hampton, Emma Kuskie, Taylor Mincin and Bayleigh Bartic.

Nine sophomores and eight freshmen round out the squad.

The sophomore class is represented by Julia Balaschak, Ella Palatucci, Jordan Gremba, Ryan Bigley, Lindsay Molinero, Erin Hampton, Kayla D’Angelo, Avery Pasquale and Elianna Sinkule.

Ava Vavro, Samantha Davis, Paige Brain, Alana Beermann, Skylar Kelly, Michaela Rohe, Ava Wodarek and Malayna Kuskie are freshmen.

There are four sets of sisters in the program, including the Zuder twins. The three others are the Wodarek, Hampton and Kuskie siblings.

“We already were back in the gym (Jan. 6), prepping for the state competition,” Madden said, “and all agreed that as amazing as that moment of winning (the WPIAL title) was, we still had work to do.

“The sky’s the limit for this hard-working team, and I cannot wait to see what else they accomplish.”

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