The South Brunswick High School cheerleaders closed their eyes and held each other’s hands.
It was Dec. 9, 2018, and they had just completed their routine at the Universal Cheerleaders Association Pocono Regional in Kutztown, Pa.
Every other regional qualifier had also recently finished their routines, and they were all waiting for the results.
Cheerleading scores depend on judges, after all, so you don’t know if you win until the end of the competition. But the Vikings were confident. They had spent years building up to this moment, and their routine had been flawless.
Then, the judges announced the winner in the Small Varsity Non Tumbling Division.
The winner was –South Brunswick.
The Vikings rejoiced and started hugging. Some cheerleaders even cried.
South Brunswick earned a berth in the National High School Cheerleading Championship in Orlando, Fl., the first such berth in school history.
The South Brunswick cheer squad will fly down to Florida to compete in the tournament from Feb. 7-11.
“I feel very confident that we’ll put our best foot forward. We practice every day and we’ve done a lot of competitions to prepare for it,” said South Brunswick senior cheer captain Lindsey Nebel. “So I think we’re in a really good place.”
“I’m confident that we will succeed because we’ve been working so hard,” said South Brunswick senior cheer captain Ashley Cook. “We all know we deserve it.”
The rest of the team consists of Olivia Alexander, Sarah Beauregard, Casey Contreras, Ashley Cook, Sasha Elmoudden, Sydney Eltringham, Amanda Hobbs, Zyuquais Johnson, Sara Mannuzza, Simone Meyer, Samantha Pereira, Jaiyleen Rodriguez, Jessica Swirad, Nicole Tanner, Fabiola Vega and Kelly Wong.
The Vikings are not just excited to compete. They are pumped about the experience of going to Orlando. They are planning a team trip to a park and a team bowling night, among other activities.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Nebel said. “We get to not only show what we worked all year for, but we get to bond as a team and have fun.”
“I feel like it’s a fun experience, especially since we’re so confident. We’re not stressing about it really,” Cook added. “We’re just going to nationals to do what we’ve been doing.”
Lately, in the school community, the Vikings have been doing exactly that: their normal routine. On Jan. 17 in the high school gym, they cheered for South Brunswick’s girls’ basketball team in its game against Old Bridge High School.
The cheerleaders arrived over an hour before the game, around 4:45 p.m. They met by the cafeteria, practiced for a while and then entered the gym for the game, rooting on the Vikings in unison before a sparse crowd.
The South Brunswick cheerleaders may be big time now, but they are not in awe of themselves.
“We all just try to be here at every single practice,” said South Brunswick junior Amanda Hobbs. “We’ve learned the importance of not having that negative energy. No matter what happens throughout the day, we come into practice wanting to work hard.”
Hobbs and her teammates have not lost their edge because they are fully aware of what cheerleading has done for them. The junior is a base and a flyer on the team, meaning sometimes she holds flyers by their feet, and other times she does the flying.
Hobbs was only a flyer before this year, but she wanted to add basing to her repertoire. It has improved her arm and upper body strength, and now she is a more balanced athlete. But most importantly, she learned the value of trust.
“It was about learning to trust people to hold me up just like they trust me,” Hobbs said.
Cheerleading and the success of this team had a similar impact on Nebel and Cook. Both described themselves as lacking in confidence before they joined the team a few years ago. Now, they are captains of a regional champion and national contender.
“Becoming a cheerleader has made me realize that you need to present yourself well but still be humble,” Nebel said. “Have confidence, but not too much.”
“It has helped me with problem solving and talking to people,” Cook said.
It’s the team’s ability to work together and solve problems that gives South Brunswick’s cheer coach, Tori Breese, a sense of optimism going into the national tournament.
Breese thinks the Vikings can keep this historic run going.
“They overcome obstacles and don’t blink an eye. They say, ‘Ok, what do we need to do to fix it?'” said Breese. “Lindsey and Ashley keep the girls calm in high pressure situations. With the sheer amount of practice they put in, they always have a feeling that it will work out.”