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Cheerleading: Liberty captures first county title since 1998

Liberty High School cheerleaders Chris Nassar, left, Taylor Jones and Rachel Flanick celebrate their first place finish during the winter county cheerleading competition at Westminster High School on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016.
Liberty High School cheerleaders Chris Nassar, left, Taylor Jones and Rachel Flanick celebrate their first place finish during the winter county cheerleading competition at Westminster High School on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. (Alan White / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

One of the colorful banners that hung on the wall above the Liberty cheerleaders' section spelled out "Dream Team" in capital letters. On Saturday, that "dream team" became county champions for the first time since 1998.

Six teams competed in the Carroll County Winter Cheerleading Championships at Westminster High School. The Lions finished with a final score of 120.8 to take the county title and will advance to the state semifinals at Harford Community College on Feb. 6.

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"Our coach always says it's good redemption for us because we've always come up short in the county to second place," senior Taylor Hunter said. "I didn't have a first place county champion medal in my room until now; they've all been bronze and silver so this feels really good."

"This is a great way for me to end my senior year," said senior Karissa Stach. "It's the icing on the cake."

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Westminster, the two-time reigning county champions, finished second (116.3 points), and Francis Scott Key came in third at 105.35.

Last fall, five Carroll County schools advanced to the state semifinals. Westminster advanced to the Class 4A-3A semifinals, and Francis Scott Key, Liberty, Winters Mill, and Manchester Valley advanced to the 2A-1A semis. The Lions went on to win a state title, the first in county history, but have fallen just short of a county title in recent years.

This time, there was some pressure building for the Lions to regain that top seat.

"Most of our team returned from the fall and we added a few extra girls," Stach said. "We changed our stunts to make them a little harder, put more tumbling in and kept encouraging the girls that we could do this and to push harder for it."

During the Lions routine, they chanted "These Lions together as a pack…" in unison and it seemed so. As they fell into formation on the mat, a section of the stands erupted with blue pompoms and cheers that rang loud through the Owls' gymnasium.

"It helps a lot being state champs because people saw what we were doing in the fall so they were excited to watch Liberty this time around," Stach said. "The excitement carries over to us and when they're excited, it pumps us up even more."

The senior cheerleaders from each school were individually recognized following the competition, giving the teams a chance to celebrate the accomplishments they've made together in the last four years. Stach and Hunter are two of the four Lions' seniors set to graduate in June, and the program's first county championship title in 18 years makes it a little bittersweet.

Cheerleading has been a part of Stach's life since she was in kindergarten, she said, but her career will come to an end after this season. Hunter said she hopes to pursue the sport at Towson in the fall, but she will miss Stach's motivational attitude once they've gone their separate ways.

"Karissa is really good at motivational speaking," Hunter said. "She's been really good with keeping us motivated to make sure we do everything the right way. It's not always like that at times but I'm glad we clicked so well today."

The scores of the remaining teams will be collected and sent to the state directors for sorting. The teams in the top halves of 2A-1A and 4A-3A will also advance. These teams will be notified by Tuesday of their placement.

The Lions have a week to prepare for their trip to Harford Community College, and it might take longer for the county title to sink in, Stach said. They'll prepare like they always have, by pushing for better and cleaning up the little motions.

For now, they can relax. The county title is theirs to cherish.

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"Coming from when these girls were freshmen and not winning at all, winning third and second over and over again and sometimes not making it to regionals at all to killing it on the floor this year, it's so awesome," coach Morgan Amend said. "As long as they're having fun, that's the key."

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