ELLSWORTH — It might not have been a countable meet, but for cheer teams packing the bleachers in Ellsworth High School’s Katsiaficas Gymnasium, it was still an excellent start.
Teams from around the state traveled to Ellsworth on Saturday for this year’s Maine Cheer Coaches Association Showcase. No awards or placements were given, but the exhibition meet brought the same flips, stunts and flair to the gym floor while also providing teams to tune their skills before the first championship meets begin.
“It was a fun meet,” Ellsworth assistant coach Melanie Omlor-Fox said. “You look around and see teams from everywhere. Everybody is excited to get on the mats and get started.”
Local teams competing were Ellsworth, Bucksport and Sumner. All three of those teams qualified for the state championships last year, and they’ll have success on their minds once again in 2020.
Ellsworth established itself as one of the area’s top teams early on last season with second-place finishes in the Big East and Penobscot Valley championships. The Eagles then knocked off Hermon to win the Northern Maine title before finishing just 3.2 points short of the Hawks in the Class B championships.
As last year’s Ellsworth team consisted of no seniors, the Eagles have a very experienced squad as they prepare for their first countable meet. Head coach Kat Dickens’ team this year consists of eight seniors, one junior, three sophomores and a five-member freshman class that will bolster the Eagles’ numbers.
“I think we’re just really excited about the goals we have this year and the group of girls we have this year,” Dickens said. “Every year is different, and every team is different, but it’s great that we have so many girls back from last year.”
Like Ellsworth, Sumner also solidified itself as a contender early in the 2019 season. The Tigers began the year by winning the Downeast Athletic Conference title and followed it with second-place finishes at PVCs and regionals. The Tigers, coached by Monica Pettegrow and Jessica Snowdeal, placed fourth in the Class C championships.
Elsewhere in Class C North, Bucksport boasts an experienced squad that qualified for states last year with a sixth-place finish at regionals. Lauren Lugdon’s squad this season boasts four seniors, three juniors, seven sophomores and four freshmen.
Mount Desert Island, which did not attend Saturday’s meet, is fielding a squad full of new faces after graduating eight of its 12 members last year. Missy Leland’s Trojans will be competing with Ellsworth, Brewer, Caribou, Hermon, John Bapst, Lawrence, Mount Blue, Nokomis, Old Town and Presque Isle in Class B North.
In Class D North, Deer Isle-Stonington and George Stevens Academy will be forming a cooperative team this season. With the Eagles not sponsoring the sport and the Mariners looking at low participation numbers as the winter sports season approached, the two schools agreed to join forces to ensure the cheer program could stay competitive while rebuilding its roster size.
“The GSA cheering numbers are too low for a team, so in order to work together, we will allow those few GSA students to participate with our cheering squad,” the CSD 13 (Deer Isle-Stonington) School Board informed members and guests at an Oct. 1 meeting. “This has happened before in other sports, where our students participated with GSA.”
The five-member Deer Isle-Stonington/GSA squad is coached by Amber Jones, who was named the Penobscot Valley Coach of the Year in Class D last season. The Mariners took fifth at regionals before finishing fourth at states two weeks later.
Ellsworth and MDI will compete in the Big East championships at noon Saturday, Jan. 11, at Hermon High School. Sumner will also be in action Saturday as it competes in the DAC championships at Woodland High School at 5 p.m.
After that, teams are set to compete in the PVC and regional championships Jan. 18 and Jan. 25, respectively. Then, on Feb. 8, the season concludes with the state championships at the Augusta Civic Center.
Even if Saturday’s meet wasn’t countable, competing in front of a real crowd was a welcome change for coaches and squad members after a month and a half of preparation. Now, with championship meets just days away, Maine’s shortest high school sports season is going to waste no time getting started.
“It’s very early in the season, but it goes by quick, and this is a good start,” Dickens said. “Every team is trying to get better and work some things out, and you want to be right there with them.”