Hempfield competitive spirit caps season at national championships

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Monday, February 26, 2024 | 11:36 AM


Hempfield competitive spirit coach Suzannah Mayer trusts her team has gotten the routine down.

The Spartans have attended the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) national championships held in Disney World every year since competitive spirit returned to Hempfield in 2013.

They make sure to take an early flight a couple of days before the competition so they can spend quality time together.

“This year, we caught an early morning flight on Feb. 7 and were in Magic Kingdom by 12:30 p.m.,” Mayer said. “We booked a character lunch with Winnie the Pooh and friends. After that, we spent the rest of the day exploring and enjoying the park.”

The Spartans competed in two divisions at the championships that were held Feb. 9-12 and included 1,183 teams from around the country.

Hempfield finished fifth in Traditional Competitive Team, which consists of stunting, tumbling and cheer.

The Spartans also placed eighth in Super Varsity Game Day, which is composed of chants, cheers and the school’s fight song. Last year, Hempfield captured first in this division, earning its first national championship.

“They did amazing. We could not be prouder,” Mayer said. “We have a young team this season, and they handled the nerves, stress and pressure with so much grace.”

The UCA championships capped a terrific season that saw the Spartans claim their fourth consecutive WPIAL Class 3A title and a runner-up finish at states.

“Winning four consecutive WPIAL titles was surreal,” Mayer said. “Our coaching staff gained a lot of confidence with this fourth win. Winning it four times in a row tells us that we’re doing the right things when it comes to our teaching methods and tells me that, for the most part, we need to keep doing what we’re doing.”

The WPIAL championships were held at Chartiers Valley this season, the first time in a decade that they weren’t held at Hempfield.

“I was excited to get on a bus with the team, travel to the venue and have it feel like a normal competition,” Mayer said. “In my opinion, being the host creates extra pressure and, at times, the home atmosphere can be a distraction for the team.”

What set the Spartans apart were unique, difficult skills in their routine that teams may not include and their diligence in how those skills are performed.

“Our standard is high when it comes to working on execution,” Mayer said. “If a stunting skill hits, but we know the skill can be performed better in that moment, the stunt group will perform the skill again until it’s executed correctly.”

After WPIALs, Hempfield went on to states, where the team was looking to capture a third straight state title after winning back-to-back in 2022 and ’23.

The Spartans implemented cut parts from their WPIAL routine in hopes of boosting their wow factor at states.

“We plugged in three single base diamidov skills to our first pyramid,” Mayer said. “While diamidov skills have become quite popular in cheerleading, I haven’t seen this skill performed in a single base stunt group.”

For the uninitiated, a diamidov is when a cheerleader starts on the ground facing forward with a teammate crouched behind them. In rhythm with the count of the routine, the cheerleader is thrown upwards and while maintaining grip with one of the teammates hands, twists in the air to grab the other hand and faces the opposite direction.

Essentially, both teammates end up looking like an upside down “Y” stacked on another “Y”.

Once in that position, the person on top is then nudged upwards and swings their feet toward the front, finishing the move by standing on their partner’s hands.

“We were really excited to show this off,” Mayer said.

Hempfield came up just short of a three-peat, losing to St. Hubert’s out of Philadelphia, but it just added to the success the team had all year.

“I just said to the entire team this past weekend that they should be so proud of the way we finished this season,” Mayer said. “If you would’ve asked me 10 months ago if both of our teams would make it to the final round of competition at nationals and also place top 10 in the nation, I would’ve said you were crazy.”

Crazy would be an apt word for just how well the team did this year after losing 17 seniors from last year’s team.

The Spartans will lose only seven from this year’s team, and Mayer will hope to have reinforcements coming from the HACC Wolves, a feeder program she and a few other individuals created in 2014.

“We can’t wait to see what our team looks like next year,” Mayer said. “We’re so excited to build off of this season and pick up where we left off.”

Whatever happens moving forward, the routines will be exactly that — routine — with that dash of “wow factor.”

“My brain never really turns off,” Mayer said, “so I have these ideas for next year, and I can’t wait to see them come to life.”

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