Hillcrest High competitive cheer adds advanced tumbling to place at stateMar 30, 2023 03:13PM ● By Julie Slama
At halftime of a basketball game, Hillcrest High cheer entertain the crowd. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
It was the first year Utah High School Activities Association has overseen the competitive cheer state championships—and Hillcrest High was ready to take the floor.
“We were excited,” Hillcrest assistant coach Candice Simmons said. “I thought state was good, different, but good. The competition changed a bit, and we have new ways of qualifying. Overall, it was a good year, and we have lots we can learn. We’re excited to take that in the next year.”
Previously, cheer state competition was run by RC Competes, a Riverton based event production company that hosts cheer and dance competitions in the western United States. Last year, when UHSAA sanctioned cheer, the two entities worked together to transition the state meet.
Simmons said previously, the team could determine which divisions to compete in. However, this year, the squad competed four different routines to qualify for the championships at a state-qualifying competition.
“Each routine is valued at a different percent that adds up to 100%. If you don’t have four routines that qualified for the state competition, you’re ineligible to win state overall. They just tightened it up, made it a little bit more formalized through the process and across the board,” she said. “It’s been a little more complicated, and that’s part of the learning.”
Hillcrest qualified for state at the UHSAA central division qualifier in Lehi.
“A big goal of ours was just to take the entire squad to a different level. We were able this past season to have more advanced requirements on our varsity squad and bring in a little bit higher talent,” Simmons said, adding that each varsity member was required to be able to do a back tuck and several were able to do front and back handspring series. “We went from not requiring any to highlighting the kids who have some amazing tumbling. It was something we really have never done so we’re excited we’re raising the bar.”
Leading into state, the team practiced an average of three hours per week on their show routine. During that time, the Huskies also cheered at assemblies and other performances and several sporting events. For the first time, the varsity squad didn’t travel all season with boys basketball, but instead stayed on the home court to cheer girls basketball.
“We’re determining where our teams are and need to be; it’s been a new thing this year,” Simmons said. “Cheer has an interesting split where they’re in a competitive sport and need to practice more advanced choreography and at the same time, perform game routines that are really spirit focused so they can be there for the other teams.”
At the Jan. 25 5A state championship, Hillcrest’s cheer squad placed fourth in the show category. Both senior captain Summer Elbortoukaly, who signed to cheer at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and teammate junior Dominic Rojas placed third in the jump-off.
“I feel good about state. I’m really proud of what they did this year. So much of any sport, including cheerleading, can be a mental game. We had a really great warm-up and all of our sets were hitting—people were throwing, we were landing our tumbling. In cheer, everything can change in an instant. We had a couple little bobbles, but our kids did a really good job pushing through those,” she said, adding that she now has a better understanding of judges’ expectations so she knows how to change up her choreography. “The smartest thing we can do is really try to do lots of research from the year before and watch a lot of videos to make sure that we’re in line each year. That was hard to do with it being the first year under UHSAA.”
It was also the first year under a new head coach, Carly Dent. Simmons has been an assistant on and off for seven seasons and a dance teacher for 15 years.
“I just love the kids the entire program,” Simmons said. “It’s so fun to be involved in Hillcrest High School and have the team be front and center, really supporting the school. It says a lot about these athletes that they can take some of the most difficult moves and lifts where they need concentration, flexibility, strength, endurance and all that into their sport and make it look easy.”