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Cheerleaders head to nationals

The Winter Park Wildcats perform during the FHSAA Competitive Cheerleading Championship Finals on Saturday. They took second place.

The Winter Park Wildcats perform during the FHSAA Competitive Cheerleading Championship Finals on Saturday. They took second place.

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A year after winning it all at the state cheerleading championships, Winter Park’s team outdid itself. Against the top competition in Florida, the Wildcats found a way to best their previous score — last year’s 82.5 —with an 84.2.

But on the floor of Kissimmee’s Silver Spurs arena on Saturday, another team that finished second to last in last year’s competition rocketed up the rankings at this year’s championship, scoring 88.28 points, edging the Wildcats for the win.

“It was very close,” Coach Angela Ryan said. “The scores look very far apart, but it was close. We had some judges who had us at 88-89 points.”

A big group of returning seniors may have helped Bloomingdale High School to the win, Ryan said.

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Photo courtesy of Winter Park High School

The Wildcats finished runner-up with their young team, having lost more than a dozen seniors from last year’s championship squad. But the group of largely underclassmen managed a strong showing despite their youth.

“They did a great job out there,” Ryan said. “But the competition was tough.”

That’s one of the consequences of a sport that has rapidly grown in competitiveness, Ryan said.

“The sport is just evolving, so it’s just going to keep getting harder,” she said.

Now the girls only have a few days until they face even tougher national level competition at the Universal Cheerleaders Association National Championships at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.

Training every day leading up to the first day of competition on Saturday, they’re putting new elements into their routine with the hope of doing better.

“We are tweaking the routine this week and we’re going to ramp up the difficulty this weekend,” Ryan said. “It’s a bit of mixed emotion for them. They know it’ll be better, but they have to train that much harder.”

If they manage to make it to the final round of competition Sunday night, they’ll be in the top 10 in the nation. That’s the goal, Ryan said. Last year, they finished in the top 20.

“When you get to that level, it’s just so difficult,” she said. “There’s not much of a difference between winning and getting 10th. For us, just making that top 10 is almost like winning.”