Riverside High School wins cheerleading state championship

<p>The Riverside High School cheerleading team is 2014 OSAA state champions in the 3A/2A/1A division. Back row, from left: Yvette Barrera, junior; Lupita Naranjo, junior; Andrea Madrigal, junior; Janet Castaneda, senior; Carla Llamas, senior; Laura Ponce, junior; Katelyn Taylor, senior; Emely Garcia, senior; Alejandra Caldera, sophomore; Consuelo Llamas, sophomore; and Brigette Schmidt, sophomore. Front row, from left: Jlyn Keefer, junior; Judit Castaneda, sophomore; Emily Sepulveda, freshman; Kirsten Taylor, freshman; and Tania Mendoza, freshman.</p>

Nagging self-doubt kept the Riverside High School cheerleading team from performing at the state competition a year ago.

Oh what difference a little confidence can make.

Riverside returned to the 2014 Oregon School Activities Association Cheerleading State Championships on Feb. 15 in Portland, and was crowned state champions for 3A, 2A and 1A schools. It is the Pirates’ first-ever state cheerleading championship.

Coaches Cheryl Costello and Lisa Pratt knew their squad had the talent, but it took some coaxing to convince the girls they were ready — hard to believe on a team that boasts not one, not two, but six All-American cheerleaders.

The girls actually talked themselves out of competing last year, Costello said, despite their motivation and focus. Senior Carla Llamas said they would watch videos of performances on YouTube, and doubted whether they could measure up.

This year, the coaches simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“We always knew we had the right group,” Costello said. “It was just rebuilding their confidence.”

For 10 years, Riverside did not send a team to the state championships. The squad went through several coaches who decided to focus more on supporting the school's sports teams, and not on outside competitions.

When Costello and Pratt took over as coaches three years ago, they noticed major improvement almost right away. Six members of the team — freshman Tania Mendoza, sophomores Alejandra Caldera and Brigette Schmidt, and seniors Emely Garcia, Katelyn Taylor and Llamas — were chosen over the summer as All-American Cheerleaders by the Universal Cheerleaders Association.

That’s when Costello decided the team was ready, and they began practicing for the OSAA championships. Llamas said the girls eventually started to believe in themselves.

“We knew we were different from other cheer squads in the area,” Llamas said. “Our girls were really focused on cheering. We wanted to do our own thing.”

At state, Riverside was the last to perform out of 25 teams during the morning session. They competed directly against 12 other teams from across the state, including nearby Irrigon High School. Judges gave scores based on choreography, tumbling and jumps.

The key, Llamas said, was just having fun. Some teams get so lost in concentration they forget to smile for the crowd and really sell the routine.

“I think that’s what made the difference,” Llamas said. “We let it show in our faces.”

All the dedication — the three-hour daily practices, summer camps and full sports schedule — paid off with a first place finish. Creswell High School finished second. Irrigon finished third.

More than anything, Llamas said she is proud of changing the way cheerleading is seen by other students at Riverside.

“It’s as hard as any sport they do,” she said. “Except we’re louder. And crazier.”

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Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4547.

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