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Pine-Richland cheerleading squad earns national bronze

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Pine Creek

It is not easy to top a WPIAL Championship. A second-place finish in the state may come close, but earning a bronze medal in the National High School Cheerleading Championship in Orlando, Fla. was the highlight of a successful season for the Pine-Richland cheerleading team.

“This group wanted it from the time the season started,” Pine-Richland coach Pine-Richland coach Danielle Hitson said. “We had a lot of good team players who were competitors and loved to practice.”

Hitson said she had never seen so many teams in one division with such a high skill level. That, coupled with her squad having a rough round in the semifinals, may have caused a lesser team to waver, but Hitson had her team prepared.

“(UCA) is the biggest cheer company around, and they judge the collegiate style (based on school spirit and crowd engagement rather than a show),” Hitson said. “It took me a lot of years to figure it out.”

Captain Jenna Craig said she knew heading to Nationals that the competition is intense.

“Every team down there is awesome,” Craig said. “We were shooting for top five, and to finish top three was amazing because of all the hard work we put in. This really put it all in perspective.”

Craig said the key was keeping the confidence up, which can be tough against perennial small varsity division powers Dr. Phillips, Madison Central and Los Alamitos, teams that have been around since the beginning of the NHSCC.

“This accomplishment (taking third nationally) definitely says a lot about our program,” Craig said. “I have been on the squad for three years, and this is our best finish. It is so memorable, and in our last performance (to do so well) it made all the work along the way worth it.”

When Pine-Richland started cheering competitively 10 years ago, it placed 49th. But a decade later, the progress is monumental.

“This (season) will definitely help out recruiting kids to cheerleading,” Hitson said. “When I started, we had 30 cheerleaders (from 7th through 12th grade). Now we have 78 kids.”

Hitson said the accomplishments of the season will help the sport gain respect.

Kasey Elkin is the Lady Rams' other captain, and she said it is hard to rank the accomplishments in such a strong season as they all hold a special meaning.

“Nationals is our big-ticket item,” Elkin said. “It is so hard, because it is subjective. I was a little afraid, because we did make a few errors in the previous round but overcame it and did the best we could in our two minutes and 30 seconds.”

Elkin said she could not imagine a better season or team to perform with as a senior.

“We are so close. It is a family ... we did so well, and it is so special,” Elkin said. “I have to say the team is so grateful to our parents and coaches. We got a speech like the United States hockey team did in the movie ‘Miracle' from our parents before the national competition. We just appreciate all they have done; we couldn't have done it without them.”

Pine-Richland is one of only six teams to make the national finals in each of the past four years, and statistically the team is second in the nation to Dr. Phillips during that span.

“It's crazy we are the second-best team in America over the past four years,” Hitson said.

Jerry Clark is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or jeclark@tribweb.com.

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