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Marriotts Ridge captures fall Howard County cheerleading championship

Marriotts Ridge senior captains Delaney Haggins, Olivia Cassidy, Lauren Cumberland and Mia Krakovsky all remember the heartbreak from last year’s winter cheerleading county championship. The Mustangs earned a better raw score than eventual champion Long Reach, but a few falls and stumbles resulted in more deductions. It marked the second straight season Marriotts Ridge finished as the runner-up to the Lightning.

“We knew we had a point to prove,” Haggins said about the team’s mindset entering this season’s fall event Tuesday at River Hill. “We had to come back stronger than ever.”

The Mustangs accomplished just that with a routine their cheerleaders described as energetic, exciting and fun. They aimed to amuse the judges instead of simply meeting the scoring requirements, and the panel rewarded them with a score of 118.45, more than three points better than runner-up Long Reach (115.1 points). Mt. Hebron (111.2), River Hill (111.1) and Atholton (107.05) rounded out the top five.

“Our hard work, dedication and drive to win back the title, it was so exciting and rewarding,” Cassidy said.

“Over the moon, so happy,” Cumberland added. “We really needed to prove our point.”

“We had overcome what we needed to, and we were better than we were in the winter,” Krakovsky concluded. “And it’s a great feeling.”

Coach Sugene Shin said the main difference from last year’s routine to this season’s was striking a balance between technical excellence and entertainment. She wanted the Mustangs’ performance to be like the ones she watches on YouTube “over and over again,” the ones that she never seems to get bored of because “there’s always something going on.”

To do so, Shin spiced up the transitions between stunts and cheers. There was constant movement, no matter how subtle or obvious, that occurred both front and center and in the background. As Krakovsky described it, Marriotts Ridge did not want any “dead time” in the routine.

Other additions to this year’s “Disney Medley routine” included a combination of switch up and 360 stunts instead of implementing one or the other like a year ago.

“There were a lot of bumps along the road, but basically, I just was patient with the team, and we just stayed consistent,” Shin said. “And then when something didn’t work, we would try something else.”

Marriotts Ridge needed a superb routine to knock off Long Reach, which performed a near-flawless routine earlier in the varsity portion of the competition. In coach Nikkia Johnson’s eyes, the Lightning were “the only team that hit and had high energy.” Their major downfall was a three-point deduction for incorporating what the judges viewed as an illegal stunt, a ruling Johnson disagreed with. She has since sent the video and explanation of the stunt, which the Lightning changed “at the last minute,” to a county representative.

“This loss had nothing to do with my girls talent, hard work, or dedication,” Johnson said. “I’m so proud of them for getting a new stunt down with less than three practices.”

Marriotts Ridge’s routine went mostly as expected, though one of their stunts did crumble to the ground early in the performance. The miscue made Shin nervous. Could what happened at last year’s winter meet doom the Mustangs again?

The Mustangs regrouped, however, and never once did they compare their performance to that of any other county team, Shin said. The cheerleaders trusted their coaches put together a complex routine worthy of first place. All they needed to do was execute it.

The moments after the final routine were some of the most nerve-wracking, as Marriotts Ridge sat in a circle anxiously awaiting the final results. In calling out the fifth-, fourth- and third- place teams, the announcer made no mention of the Mustangs. He then revealed the runner-up: defending champion Long Reach.

At that moment, the Mustangs knew this season would be different than the winter and the fall. For the first time since 2016, they were county champions.

“Amazing, overjoyed,” Haggins said about recapturing the league crown for Marriotts Ridge. “It feels amazing to know that we can come back stronger than ever, especially with what happened last year. It’s just an amazing feeling.”

Final results:

1. Marriotts Ridge (118.45 points); 2. Long Reach (115.1); 3. Mt. Hebron (111.2); 4. River Hill (111.1); 5. Atholton (107.05); 6. Glenelg (105.3); 7. Reservoir (104.95); 8. Howard (104.65); 9. Oakland Mills (104.45); 10. Hammond (103.8); Centennial (100.55); 12. Wilde Lake (98.8).

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