Last season, Lambert’s competitive cheerleading squad was four points away from being crowned state champions. Peachtree Ridge claimed the title, but before, the Lady Longhorns were apathetic about getting up as a team to retrieve their second-place trophy.
At that point, Lambert coach Brent Paige knew his team had lit a fire under its own feet. The determination over the last year paid off Saturday as Lambert took home the state title, edging crosstown rival South Forsyth by a single point, 290-289, at the Columbus Civic Center on Saturday.
It was Lambert’s third state title in four years, but the sweetest yet for Paige.
“It feels like a dream,” Paige said. “I’m really happy for the girls, that was their top goal of the year and they achieved it.”
Seniors Zoe McClure, Sydney Rhodes, Anna Claire Slack, Alexa Wagner and Emily Willman, all captains, were eager to redeem themselves after last season. They only had one more chance.
“Winning state this year was the best feeling ever,” Wagner said. “Since we were so close last year it motivated us to train harder and work harder this season. We wanted first place. I am so proud of my team and everything we accomplished this year.”
The path to the title was unconventional, yet perfect, according to Paige. With seven new girls on the team, Paige was initially concerned about his team’s nerves heading into a championship environment with a big stage, bright lights and a crowd, but because of a loss to South in the region meet, the Lady Longhorns had to go through sectionals—also in the Columbus Civic Center—to advance to the state meet.
“As long as you get top eight in sectionals, you advance to state, but we got first at sectionals,” Paige said. “It was a great place to get jitters out. They looked a little nervous, but performed well, so they were prepared for what came next.”
Saturday was trying for Lambert as well. They were slated as the 38th team in the field to compete, so instead of having his team spend extended periods of time watching other routines, Paige took the squad away from the action.
“West (Forsyth), South and Peachtree Ridge all were going up before us,” Paige said. “So I took the girls away from the action. All three teams nailed great routines, but we didn’t know that. We just went through warmups, cracked some jokes, got more relaxed, and it was time to get to business.
“Eventually, we hit the routine good enough to win state,” Paige said.
It was also a banner finish for South and head coach Shayla Brawner. The Lady War Eagles jumped from 13th to state runner-up after having what Brawner called “our best state performance of the year.”
“There’s a little bit of subjectivity in the scoring rubric, and that’s just part of the sport,” Brawner said. “At region we beat Lambert by two, here we only fell by one, but we had a few small issues at region that we worked on and the girls really attacked those skills. It was their best performance of the year.”
South was led by seniors Megan Koenighs, Alexa Nelson, Kristen White and Lauren Finamore.