Not so much. Lightning coach Nikkia Johnson lost more than half of that group. Some cheer on all-star teams. Others pursued different school endeavors, such as theatre. In total, she returned five girls from that fall varsity squad. She had to bring up nine cheerleaders from JV.
“A lot of these girls had never cheered at a varsity competition,” senior captain Sarah Jungblut said.
Nevertheless, Jungblut and fellow senior captain Jordyn Tyler worked in unison with their younger teammates to put together another title winning performance, this time at the league’s winter cheerleading championship on Saturday at Mt. Hebron.
The Lightning delivered a difficult yet clean routine, which earned a raw score of 111.4 points and only lost 0.25 points for deductions. And their final total of 111.15 points was more than enough to hold off runner-up Marriotts Ridge (103.9 points) and third-place Mt. Hebron (99.1) and secure the program’s first sweep of the county championships since 2011.
“It’s great because fall is hard, and people always say that winter is not that hard, but I mean it’s not easy,” Tyler said. “We had some good competition. So, just knowing that we were able to take a different group and do it again, it was great.”
Long Reach performs its winning routine at the Howard County winter cheerleading championship at Mt. Hebron on Feb. 10. (Kyle Stackpole / BSMG)
For Johnson, this accomplishment was “very much unexpected.” She thought her team could finish in the top three but was unsure of its chances to win the entire event.
Just look at a couple Saturdays ago, when Long Reach competed at the Dynasty Invitational Cheer Competition at Chesapeake High School. Marriotts Ridge took home the title. The Lightning, which were still acclimating their younger cheerleaders to the varsity level, settled for sixth.
Jungblut said the performance “kind of shook” her and her teammates, who were determined to clean up their routine, increase their energy, and, above all else, just have fun.
“They were bumping into each other. They were saying sorry to each other,” Johnson said. “And I’m like ‘You don’t have time to talk and say sorry! Put a smile on your face!.’”
And in these past two weeks, with Jungblut and Tyler leading the way, the Lightning turned it around.
Johnson first felt her team had a chance to win the winter county title towards the end of the routine. “As soon as they hit the heel stretches in the pyramid and they pulled them back,” she said. “That was so tight.” Jungblut thought her and her teammates performed the routine to the best of their ability.
The post-routine scene, meanwhile, included plenty of screaming and hugging, as the Lightning knew they had put themselves in contention to win another league crown.
Next on the mat was Marriotts Ridge, which secured more points than Long Reach for its tosses and tumbles and slightly less for its stunts. In fact, the Mustangs and Lightning earned the same raw score.
But the Mustangs stumbled or fell a few times throughout their routine, costly mistakes that resulted in 7.5 points in deductions.
“That never happens in practice, so I don’t know what happened,” Marriotts Ridge coach Sugene Shin said. “So basically today was just a big fluke.”
After the award ceremony, Tyler and Jungblut made sure to credit Johnson for the team’s recent turnaround as well the program’s success over their careers. And though they won’t be around to try and help their team secure a third straight county title next season, they’re confident Johnson and their younger teammates will be able to continue this run.
“She taught us everything,” Jungblut said. “And then we kind of felt like, not coaches on the team but definitely the leaders because we’re the oldest on the team. It’s amazing having them do the same experience that we had last season and all the seasons before because we have been on varsity for three years, so seeing them feel that experience, too, was amazing because it’s like ‘Oh, they’re growing up.’ Now we know that our team is going to be amazing next year as we leave."