Hillcrest cheer hopes to head to UCA nationals under new coaching staffDec 01, 2023 12:23PM ● By Julie Slama
Hillcrest High’s cheer squad takes the field during halftime of the football homecoming game. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
National Universal Cheerleading Association’s championships.
That’s the goal of 22 Hillcrest High cheerleaders when they take to the regional qualifier Dec. 9 at Mountain American Expo Center in Sandy.
“It’s really exciting,” said first-year coach Alex Martinez. “We’re registering to go to nationals, pending our regional competition. It will be a new experience for them. I am just beyond excited to see their faces when we get there — fingers crossed — and for them to see how their hard work pays off and how it’s going to be an experience of a lifetime.”
If they qualify, the Huskies will compete at Disney World in Orlando in Feb. 9-12, 2024.
At the qualifier, the Huskies’ varsity co-ed team will compete in game day and traditional categories and its JV co-ed squad will take part in game day. Their routine was devised by a UCA choreographer.
Put simply, Martinez said traditional competition includes tumbling and stunts set to music as a performance as well as a cheer portion. Game day is designed to get the crowd immersed into their cheers and often includes the fight song.
“This is our growing year with all new coaches. But with it being our growing year, I’m so proud of them, because they’ve taken challenges head on, trusting us as their coaches, and they’re not afraid to try new things with more tumbling passes and stunting. It’s exciting to see them have these goals like UCA nationals that they’re reaching for and work toward,” she said.
As a coach, Martinez said the sport, at times, is hard to watch.
“Coaches have no control. You just hope that their adrenaline kicks in, and their muscle memory kicks in. I remember when I competed my mind was racing and there’s so much going on, but my body just knew what to do and where to go,” she said. “So, I tell them, ‘you need to worry about your job, not everyone else’s. You just know where your spot is and what your job is to get the stunt set up or to get your tumbling pass to be successful.’ When it comes together, it’s magic. To see 20 kids pull off the routine with stunting and tumbling and people being thrown up in the air and dancing. It’s just looks magical when it just all comes together seamlessly. But there really is a lot of hard work and dedication to get there.”
If the Huskies don’t make the cut, there isn’t a second chance this season, Martinez said.
“We’ll lick our wounds and move to compete at the USA national qualifier, which means at Disneyland in California. It will still be a great opportunity,” she said. “What makes cheer scary is that you work all year for a minute and a half routine and then, it’s all on the line. You could have 10 successful run throughs and the 11th one, you could have a fall. Cheer is a sport where everyone has to do their job to pull off this choreographed routine.”
Martinez, who competed in gymnastics growing up and cheer in high school, coached at a Reno High School for a couple years before taking an English teaching position three years ago at Hillcrest.
“I was approached to be an assistant coach at my alma mater and just loved it. It’s different coaching versus competing. You get to know the details of the score sheet you’ve never realized as an athlete. You become familiar with all the nitty gritty details. But it’s so much fun providing an experience for your athletes that brought me so much joy and so many memories,” she said. “It is a big commitment. Even so, I’m glad I decided to coach here at Hillcrest because I love this team. They’re just such hard workers and they’re hungry. They want to be good.”
In addition to the national qualifier, the Huskies will compete Jan. 13 in the northern UHSAA state divisional in the Lifetime Activities Center on Salt Lake Community College’s Redwood Campus, 4600 S. Redwood Rd.
Martinez wants the team to focus on their own routines.
“Their minds are their biggest competition. If they believe in their ability to do something without comparing themselves to others, they’re going to do it 10 times better,” she said.
The 4A state is Jan. 26 at Utah Valley University’s UCCU Center in Orem. It’s the second year UHSAA has sanctioned a state competition.
In addition to competitions, the cheer squad rallied on the fall teams and will be on the sidelines of the winter sports as well.
“We’re trying to be positive examples in the school and to the community. We helped East Sandy Elementary with fun run a couple of weeks ago, cheering for them at the start of the race. We ran with them for a little bit and then we cheered for them when they came back,” she said. “We’re also doing a mini Husky cheer clinic week in late November.”
In addition, Martinez along with assistant coaches Melissa Wilkes, Emily Oviatt and Ashley Skillman, are bonding with the team through class dates. They took the four seniors to dinner and plan to do that with each class.
“We want to get to know them more and get to know their goals. Some of them are thinking about cheering at the collegiate level. We want them to know that we care about them and want the best for them. We want to support them in their endeavors,” she said, adding that a team holiday party is planned. “It’s good to have that bond with your teammates; that bond leads to trust and success in our routines.” λ