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Kenai cheer triumphs at state competition

Kenai Central High School's
Cassi Holmes
The Kenai Central High School cheerleading team at this year's state competition

Going into the state championship competition, the Kenai Central High School cheerleading team felt a lot of pressure to uphold its reputation from the last three seasons. The squad of eleven girls, mostly underclassmen, recently experienced a loss during the team’s regional competition. Their head coach had also just resigned, resulting in lost practice time.

Starting somewhat from scratch, the girls had less than a month to prepare for both the regional and state competitions. After the regional loss, the team made changes to their cheer routine. They also practiced every day for two hours during their spring break.

“It was very evident that they all wanted to be there, every day,” said Cassi Holmes, the team’s new coach. “I don’t think I’ve been around a group, a team, that unanimously had such good attitudes, and I know that was the reason we were able to pull off a season like we did.” 

Holmes, who began her role at the end of January, says this is the first time she’s ever coached a team. She trained under the team’s former coach, Briana Force, who led the team to three state victories in the years prior.

Coming into this year’s state competition, Holmes also felt the pressure to uphold the team’s reputation. She says she called Force every day and constantly asked herself “What would Briana do?”

“I mentored under, in my opinion, genuinely one of the best coaches in the state," Holmes said. "Certainly, the best coach Kenai Central High School has ever seen, and she built a phenomenal legacy for Kenai Central cheerleading.” 

While the team felt the time crunch, Holmes says the girls put in their best efforts in the weeks leading up to the state competition, which took place on March 19 in Anchorage. She says their number one goal was to remain focused and calm.

“Finding out the results at state was especially emotional for them, knowing that they had such a hectic season and they had worked so hard to come back from the chaos that happened in the beginning and midway through the season,” Holmes said.  

“It was really a learning experience, and winning was such a euphoric feeling because of how hard we all worked to get it,” said Sarah Baisden, a junior on the team. “It was really eye-opening because I didn’t even realize our potential until we were sitting there and I heard that we had won. It was an experience that I can’t really describe into words, but don’t underestimate a newer team.” 

Baisden, the team’s co-captain, has only cheered for two years. She says the squad is relatively inexperienced but have skills that translate well from other sports. Baisden says this mix of skills united the team and shows what Kenai is capable of.

“It doesn’t matter how experienced you are going into a sport, it’s about how hard you work to build your way up,” Baisden said.

“To walk away with this squad of girls that are so respectful, so kind, such phenomenal athletes who work so hard throughout the season, and then to top it off with the win at state, really just meant everything to me, and I think solidified for me and the girls all the hard work that we put in during the season,” Holmes said.  

Even though she pushed the team hard, Holmes says the squad never once lost their spirit. Despite the challenges presented to them, she says the girls kept the sport fun.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL
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