CHEERLEADING - Colonels defend district title

WINCHESTER — Several minutes after members of the James Wood cheerleading team had rejoiced after hearing the results of Wednesday's Class 4 Northwestern District cheerleading competition, they began jumping and chanting the team's name for about 30 seconds.

There was just no end to the energy that helped the Colonels to a thoroughly impressive victory at Millbrook High School's Casey Gymnasium.

Liberty was the team that had earned the district's automatic berth into the Tuesday's Region 4C competition by winning the district mini on Sept. 25 at Liberty in a tiebreaker.

But on Wednesday the defending district champion Colonels beat the runner-up Eagles by 15 points (255.5-240.5). Third-place Millbrook and fourth-place Fauquier (each with 238 points; the Pioneers had 404.5 to Fauquier's 395.5 on a tiebreaker) also advanced to the region competition. Sherando placed fifth with 227.5 points and Handley placed last in the eight-team field with 199 points.

Both James Wood and Liberty scored 219 points in standard judging in the district mini, so the highest and lowest scores submitted by the five judges that are normally dropped were added in for the tiebreaker. Liberty had 364.5 points while James Wood had 363.

"I think we really just focused on having fun this time," said James Wood senior captain Ally Smith. "We were really worked up for the other competitions and really focused on winning.

"This time, we said, 'We know we have the skills. We just need to go out and have fun,' and it will all work out in our favor. I think that's why it worked out so well this time."

Make no mistake, the Colonels put in plenty of work to put themselves in position to relax and have fun Wednesday.

"We really pushed them the last three weeks," James Wood coach Wendy DeMaio said. "Execution, execution on everything we did. Stick your landings on tumbling, be confident. We really worked on stunts.

"We had the nickname of 'second-place team' all season. After taking second [at the Skyline Invitational] last week, we kept working hard. They came in the gym every day and never complained. We had a kid who had pneumonia and two kids with strep throat, and they took the mat tonight and it never bothered hard. They just working hard these past few weeks."

James Wood's roster features Smith, fellow seniors Sami Angel-Perez, Jenna Morell and Desiree Richards; juniors Kelsey Beard, Kayleigh Fridley, Valerie Galpin, Blake Gonzales, Maddy Milburn, Maddi Walker, Jayla Wayland and Jacquelyn Whitt; sophomores Alana Bradford, Emma Groot, Paige Linton, Khyla Mason and Caroline Partlow; and freshmen Haylee Combs, Jocelyn Hempel and Contessa Stevens.

"We couldn't have asked for anything better from them," DeMaio said. "They legit came out on the floor and left their hearts out there. They really did. And they did it together. They're a great bunch of kids. There's a sense of family on our team. They all get along. They literally just all love each other, and it's nice to come into practice every day."

James Wood is coming off a successful 2018 season in which it placed second in the region and third in the state, but Smith said this year's team is indeed a special group.

"I think there's a bigger sense of family on this team than we've ever had before," Smith said. "Everybody sticks up for each other. If we have a bad day at school. we come to practice. We talk about it, we make each other feel better, and we just get ready to work and have a great practice."

James Wood made the district competition its best of the year, and Millbrook did the same. Pioneers coach Dawnette Jones said the team has posted a better score than its previous competition every time this season.

"We're peaking and growing every time we compete," said Jones, whose team took fourth while Fauquier took third at the district mini. "The routine that we did tonight was our best ever. It was amazing. They were so energetic, and everything was there that you want to see.

"We absolutely did our best routine that we can possibly do. There's a couple of things we can work on. Maybe the jump timing. Our jumps weren't as good tonight as they could have been. But basically everything else that we did — the high energy, the cheer part — was the best."

Millbrook senior Sarah Purdy said the Pioneers had a lot to be pleased about.

"I think we hit almost all of our routine, and we can still improve on a lot of things in our routine," she said. "I was really stoked about how we did."

Millbrook's other seniors besides Purdy are Madison Chandler, Madison Clark, Ellie Deegan, Lexi Himelright, Alyssa Lane, Elyssa McCafferty, Marina McGafferty and Morgan Todd. The Pioneers also feature juniors Mia Ford and Paisley Kupka, sophomores Natalie Chandler, Julia Churchill, Grace Everly, Molly Johnson, Julianne Pullen and Cierra Van Fossen; and freshmen Abby Bollinger, Caleyah Brooks, Margaret McCarthy, Ashley McGuire, Riley Ours, Caitlin Rosenberg and Madison Snapp.

Sherando coach Heather Hyatt gave credit to the other teams for performing as well as they did to deny the Warriors a regional berth. Sherando also placed fifth at the district mini.

"We just didn't quite hit our routine as well as we have," Hyatt said. "We had a great season. We had a first-place finish [at Harrisonburg High School to open the season]. We had a second-place finish. But we just didn't do our best tonight. Hopefully next year, we'll improve."

Handley coach Brooke Ward said she was glad to see her team finish with a strong performance.

"Our season started off really, really rough," she said. "But they overcame a lot of obstacles, a lot of injuries. The ending was way better than I expected. We had a lot of falls and a couple deductions in our last competition, but didn't have any today. Everything stuck."

The following local people were selected to the Class 4 All-Northwestern District teams on Friday:

First team — James Wood: Mason, Walker, Beard, Hempel; Millbrook: Purdy, Johnson, Himelright; Sherando: Hannah Craig, Alli Bodenschatz; Handley: Chazden Walker.

Second team — James Wood: Gonzales, Groot, Smith, Richards; Milbrook: Deegan, Clark, Chandler; Sherando: Gracie Ridings, Kylynn Whitt; Handley: Rosalind Bland.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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