Heritage cheerleaders make bid for state finals

CONYERS - One hundred and fifty seconds.

That's all it will take today - just two minutes and 30 seconds - to determine whether the Heritage varsity competition cheerleading squad will be one of eight teams advancing from the sectionals to the final round of the state cheer competition Saturday at the Columbus Civic Center.

Talk about pressure.

"They have a really good chance," Heritage coach Janna Young said. "They really have the determination, and for two and a half minutes they'll do anything."

Lately, the Lady Patriots have certainly captured the attention of many in the sport. They finished second overall in Region 8-AAAA on Saturday in Loganville.

Heritage scored 232 points, ensuring a bid to state along with 21 other teams.

"We didn't get to go into region with a record like a football team," Young said. "You have two and a half minutes on the floor to show those particular judges that you should advance to state."

For the Lady Patriots, their routine - when executed - lasts 2:29. Gradually, they have gotten better this year, first scoring 218 and placing second in just about each of the five competitions they have attended.

Teams are permitted to participate in six competitions prior to the region meet.

"They're very excited," Young said. "What we told them all year long is that each week we have to improve our score, and we did. But we also told them that we haven't peaked yet. Well, they peaked Saturday - they nailed their routine, and that's what we want to do again (today)."

Among all the factors in judging a routine - stunting technique, stunting strengths, tumbling motions, formations, showmanship and pyramids - Heritage's strength is its tumbling, stunting and jumps.

However, the ascent will not be easy. Not only will the Lady Patriots board a bus at 6 a.m. today to compete, they will then return for Senior Night festivities to support the Heritage football team. If they are among the eight teams to advance, they will turn around and head right back to Columbus on Saturday morning.

Furthermore, injuries have plagued the squad this year, and right now it is dealing with several illnesses, including strep throat.

Alleviating the pressure is an experienced Heritage squad - a close-knit group of 16 girls (seven seniors), including two alternates.

The team, also coached by Brandy Webb, includes Brittany Blount, Brooke Craft, Lindsay Ezell, Natalie George, Briana Goode, Jessica Hawkes, Haley Henson, Madison Hope, Mackenzie Hull, Sarah Kirkpatrick, Ashley Merkel, Ansley Rehorn, Haley Shubert, Lindsey Sutton, Candace Vess, Deja White, Jori Young and Sharnel Young.

Young has coached nine of the 18 girls since they were just getting into the sport at a young age.

"It's very exciting for us to get to state for that reason," Young said. "They push the girls and make them work hard, but they also work real well with each other, too. I would say most of the time they pretty much all get along.

"But this is their last chance, and in the past we've always thought we were going (to state) and never went."

Jason Murdock can be reached at jason.murdock@rockdalecitizen.com.