HOULTON — When one of a team’s senior leaders goes down with an injury, that only adds to its competitive fire.
The Houlton cheerleading squad suffered such a fate last week when senior Marcy Hernandez had to undergo an appendectomy, thus relegating her to the sidelines for Saturday’s Class C state cheerleading competition at the Bangor Auditorium.
“Friday at one of our games I was getting pains in my stomach and then after that they just progressed,” Hernandez said as the Shires enjoyed a pizza party before practice on Thursday night.
Despite Hernandez’s absence, the Eastern Maine champion Shiretowners will be one of the favorites to claim the coveted state championship.
The Classes B and C competition will kick off at 10 a.m., while the Class A and D schools will begin at 3 p.m.
After undergoing the appendectomy, Hernandez’s doctors told her she’d have to sit out for two to four weeks.
“They told me that I had to do it, so I had it done right Saturday,” she said.
Since winning regionals a couple weekends ago, the Shires have been busy trying to make sure their routine is spot-on Saturday.
The main thing Houlton has been working on is transitions, and keeping things moving smoothly from one stunt to the next.
“Keeping them clean, tight motions, making sure everyone’s hitting everything,” explained Houlton senior Taylor Lindsay. “Making sure we don’t hit each other because that’s a deduction.”
Since Hernandez is one of Houlton’s fliers, the Shiretowners have had to make adjustments, but they feel ready to go.
“We tried to get a different flyer, trying to fix things, move things around and change them,” senior Jenifer Farrar said.
One thing the Shires won’t have to change a whole lot is their tumbling, thanks to the high-flying acrobatics of senior Brandon Murphy, who has been tumbling for as long as he can remember.
“I started off teaching myself, and taking classes and then more and more throughout the years I’ve been taking more classes, and stepped up my game because I knew this year I had to,” explained Murphy, who has become a gymnastics instructor in Mars Hill.
While Houlton does feature five seniors, the squad is fairly young with 12 sophomores, and Murphy has been impressed with their work.
“I’ve been very impressed, they’ve all stepped it up 110 percent this whole season,” he said.
The Shires have also tweaked their pyramid a bit.
“We’ve re-arranged some stunting for the pyramid,” said senior Danielle Daigle.
Houlton’s main competition at states will likely come from defending state champion Sumner of East Sullivan, Central of Corinth and EM runner-up Orono.
While it’ll be difficult for Hernandez to be in the bystander role Saturday, she knows she’ll have to maintain her leadership role.
“At least I get to see what’s going on, and take that coach role,” she said.
Class A: Lewiston won the Eastern Maine title with a strong performance, and is gunning for its first state championship since 2006.
Biddeford has won the last three titles, and Marshwood of South Berwick claimed the Western Maine championship this season.
Brewer, which was second in the Eastern Maine competition, was the last EM school to win a state crown (2007), and could contend again along with Bangor and Hampden Academy.
Hampden has proven it can be a strong team this winter, as the Broncos were runners-up at the KVAC competition in mid-January.
Class B: Eastern Maine champ Hermon is going for its second state championship in three seasons, and coach Kristie Reed’s Hawks have won all three competitions they’ve entered this winter.
Eastern Maine runner-up Ellsworth and West winner Medomak Valley of Waldoboro will be among the top challengers.
The WM champion Panthers’ roster consists of Danielle Moshier, Danica Bryant, Brittany Alexander, Jennifer Delano, Taylor Pelkey, Savannah Chamberlain, Chelsea Wedge, Michaela Melody, Chelsea Creamer, Mollie Strunk, Kelsie Grady, Charlene Wilbur, Jessica Prescott, Lyndsey Miller, Haley Mank, Lori Meservey, and Jennica Smith.
Class D: Central Aroostook will be seeking to continue its cheerleading dynasty, as the Panthers from Mars Hill have claimed the last three state championships and recently won its fourth straight regional title.
Among the challengers will be Jonesport-Beals, which was second in regionals, and Deer Isle-Stonington, which took third.