December 07, 2011 - Last season was a big step for the Wildcat varsity cheer program.
Front Row (left to right): Jackie Colon (captain), Baillie Terrian (captain), Alyssa Kasdorf, Kendall Burr Second Row (left to right): Brijana Jackson, Emily Springstube, Melanie Cappell, Peyton Colling, Ashton Hulbert, Kiersten Walleman, Halie Byron Third Row (left to right): Coach Melissa McClain, Jaclyn Borg, Carson Johnson, Courtney Clavet, Marissa Ruehl, Alejandra Lozano, Coach Shari Russell Back Row (left to right): Jenifer Plontus, Ashlynn Calka, Christine Cappell, Renee Hansen, Valencia Jackson, Elizabeth Ettinger. (click for larger version)
They won the Oakland Activities Association White division, qualified for regionals with a fourth place finish at districts and had a good showing at regionals despite finishing last.
This year, varsity cheer coach Shari Russell is looking for her program to take the next step, which starts with winning the division crown outright.
"Last year North Farmington had used an ineligible player, so they had to forfeit one of their meets and there is some controversy about it costing them the championship," Russell said. "We don't want any of that surrounding our competition. We want to do the best that we can and hopefully walk away with a league title with no questioning surrounding it."
She also said she would like to improve her position at both districts and regionals. "It's always one step at a time," she said.
"We're still a young team, but they are kind of picking up where they left off at the end of last season," Russell said, noting she has four seniors, two juniors and eight sophomores and freshmen on the team. "So we are pretty excited to see what we can do."
Russell noted her seniors – co-captains Jackie Colon and Baillie Terrian, Aylssa Kasdorf and Kendall Burr – have really taken it upon themselves to help teach the freshmen and sophomores the ropes at the varsity level.
"The strength in our seniors is that they have been around so long, they know what to expect," Russell said. The four of them together are driven and motivated, push the team and really work with the girls, making sure they are not falling behind or they are not overwhelmed."
The youth movement continues all throughout the cheer program, as Oxford has a total of 20 freshmen and sophomores on their junior varsity squad, 30 kids on the middle school cheer team and numerous kids doing cheer in the Oxford Junior Wildcats.
"We are kind of building for continued growth; that is kind of what we have been doing the past four years is growing and I think our program is set up now where we can continue to get good numbers at the freshmen level," Russell said.
"You got to have the kids in order to have success, especially at the younger level," Russell said. "Getting them in, teaching them the basics and getting them started in basic skills at a young age is important…getting them the basics is only going to help our program so that when they get to the JV level or varsity level, they are at a higher point than starting out fresh at the high school level."
She noted the team has already begun to build in additional "risks" into their stunting and skill routines. At the end of last year, the squad began incorporating tucks into their rounds. Now, Russell is looking to add those to the team's round two routine.
"We are doing a jump that we haven't done before, so we are trying to take a little bit of risk and now push the limits for our team," she explained.
She added she is not too concerned about the other OAA teams because she wants to focus her attention on making the Wildcats the best cheer program they can be.
"Teams that we compete against, some teams get stronger, other teams have turnover, so…you never know who is going to bring what to the table," she said. "We just have to worry about ourselves. I don't think it is going to be easy."
The Wildcats traveled down to Novi to compete in the Winter Fire Up! Challenge on Saturday, Dec. 3. Even though it was just a scrimmage, Russell said her girls got really good comments from the judges and was pleased with how well her girls did.
In round one, Oxford scored a 196, which Russell noted was the highest score out of the 13 teams at the event. In round three, the Wildcats only did two-thirds of their routine, giving them a score of 261.1.
"We are right on track where we need to be. There are always things we can work on, and it was great to hear some of that from the judges and that is what we are going to be working on," Russell said.
Oxford's first meet of the season is the CCCAM Scholarship Invite at Brandon High School on Saturday, Dec. 10.
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.