Andover Golden Warriors Cheerleading '07

Andover High's varsity cheerleading team deserves a cheer themselves. For the first time in school history, the team has qualified for national competition. Shown cheering during the Andover High varsity girls basketball game Tuesday in Boston are, from left, Gabbi Prawdzik, Michelle Conway, Marilyn Fontaine, Laura Ganci and Alyssa Silva. » Roger Darrigrand, Staff Photographer

Andover cheerleaders spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S in pulling off a school first

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Friday, March, 14 By Courtney Paquette
Staff writer

The Andover High girl's basketball team isn't the school's only winner these days.

For the first time in school history, Andover High's varsity cheerleading team has earned a bid to compete in a national cheerleading competition.

"I'm really excited," said Jackie Stackhouse, 17, who is one of the team's co-captains. "We've never had anything like this happen to us. I think the chemistry on this team is unbelievable. Everyone wanted it this year."

The feat is even more impressive, their coach Karen Clark said, because the team has never placed high enough to make it beyond the first level of competition | the league championship.

This year, they won the league championship, moved onto regional competition and won there, and placed fourth at state-wide competition behind Leominster, Shepherd Hill Regional High School | which includes students from Dudley and Charlton | and Shrewsbury. Andover High's strong finish at regionals earned them a bid to nationals.

"They are very talented individuals, who have worked together as a team and brought out the best in each other," Clark said. "I could not be prouder of this group, naturally, because of their accomplishments, but also because of the work ethic, encouragement and support they have given to each other without thinking twice about it."

The secret to the girls' success this season has been practice. Since the competitions started Feb. 20, the girls have had only one day off from practice. They work on their routines for two to three hours each day, combining regular practices at the high school with additional gym time they pay for themselves at Celebrity Cheer in Salem, N.H.

Their drive to win was most recently seen in the days leading up to regionals, their coach said. One of the girls who held a critical part in the routine dislocated her elbow just days before regionals. Many teams would have been tempted to simplify their routines, Clark said. But the Andover cheerleaders pressed on with the same routine | and won.

Team members also credit the chemistry on the team with their success.

"We have a very good bond," said co-captain Meghan O'Donnell, 17. "We're very supportive of each other. We know each other's limits. We know our potential and our weaknesses."

Now, Clark said, they'll focus on how to get to the nationals.

There are several national competitions in the country the team could attend | in states like Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana. The rush is on, because many of the national competitions take place in late March and early April, and try-outs for spring sports are starting, Clark said.

Clark said she has to choose the one competition that is the best fit for her team. Competitions in Texas and other big cheerleading states may be too advanced for her girls, she said. They also have to get the OK from the school administration and the School Committee.

Stackhouse said she'd be disappointed if they didn't get to make a trip to nationals, but would be impressed with what they were able to do this year.

Just to get the national bid was exciting enough, she said.

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