Tabetha Harding began coaching the Manchester Valley cheerleading team last fall. Since then, it’s been a series of growth and program firsts.
Last year, the program made its first trip to the state meet. This year, the Mavericks earned their first county championship.
The growing success came with a heavy influx of new student-athletes into the program and the dedication to learning more difficult tumbling techniques.
“The program has grown a lot in the last two years,” Harding said. “We’ve brought in 18 freshmen this year, which is crazy. It almost doubled our program. And the freshmen are a super hard-working class. We have four seniors this year, also really hard-working, really good leaders for our team this year.”
Those seniors have been the backbone of Harding’s team, guiding a relatively young group.
“Katie Martin is our gameday squad captain. She’s a really hard-working kid, really driven at practice, likes to keep the team focused,” Harding said. “Bella Canby is a ball of joy, she keeps everyone’s spirits up at practice. ... Hannah Wisniewski, this is my first season ever coaching Hannah. She’s also an all-star cheerleader. She’s been a tremendous help, is constantly helping the JV kids. Ashley Martin is on our team as an alternate this year. She never really misses anything. She’s has been a really great support system to all the kids on both teams.”
At the county championships on Oct. 29, Manchester Valley scored 118.7 points to edge Westminster’s 118.3 for the county title. Century (114.4), Liberty (113.8), Francis Scott Key (113.3), South Carroll (108.5) and Winters Mill (104.25) finished behind them.
For Katie Martin, a county championship was a great way to end her high school career.
“As a senior, I can say it’s a pretty special feeling because it’s a great way to end my high school career as a cheerleader,” she said. “But I think for the program, it’s really just showing how much improvement we’ve made over the last couple years, especially under new coaching. It’s showing us we’re taking a step in the right direction.”
For Martin, blending a few veterans with a large freshmen group was a challenge, but one the team was able to solve fairly quickly.
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“I think as every new team is, especially in cheerleading, there were definitely some obstacles we had to overcome,” she said. “Especially with bonding with each other and learning to trust each other, especially with stunting. But after, I’d say, the first week, we were all super close with each other, trusting each other with everything and just had a great bond.”
One of the main changes that came with Harding was an increase in tumbling. The team saw first-hand how effective tumbling could be at last year’s state competition. Harding said seeing it in action “really lit a fire under the kids to push themselves to be better.”
“We preached a lot about tumbling, a lot of kids that come into high school cheer don’t tumble, and its really easy to teach stunting and jumps and cheer and dance and those parts of it, but tumbling is scary to learn because you’re flipping upside down,” Harding said. “We preached about how important it is to have those skills, to work on those skills outside of our practices as well.”
Armed with the new tumbling additions to the routine, Harding said the girls believed they had the ability to win a county championship fairly early.
“The school hasn’t had very much tumbling in the past, and that’s really heavy on the scoresheet,” Harding said. “So we knew we’d have a decent chance at getting closer to maxing out our tumbling, but we have some really good programs in our county. Westminster and Liberty are really tough competitors. It was definitely a great surprise, but they definitely had county champs in their eyes from the first day of tryouts.”
Manchester Valley fell short of a return trip to the state meet, finishing fourth at Saturday’s region competition. But overall, it was a great ending for a group that grew together as more than just teammates.
“We’re all just one family,” Martin said. “We treated each other like siblings, we loved each other, worked well together and were able to laugh at our mistakes.”