By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Former Lady Buffalo cheerleading squads sometimes seemed nervous in the hours leading up to their turn at 5A regional cheerleading competitions, McAlester head cheer coach Ashlee Shumway said. But when she returned from this year’s coaches’ meeting at Regionals, her Lady Buffs were already pounding on their lockers and shouting out the cheers.
That energy and spirit carried over to the mat Saturday at Bixby, where the Lady Buffs finished in the top six among 11 5A schools, qualifying for Saturday’s State meet at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. Metro Christian won 5A and Skiatook finished runner-up, but the other four teams didn’t receive individual places.
“This year, even though I have a fairly young team, they’ve been there, and they were pumped,” Shumway said Saturday.
“It was definitely a completely different feel, and they went out on fire”
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association instituted a new Regional system for 2013, reducing the number of Regional sites from as many as six statewide to just one East Regional. With more teams to beat and tougher competition, Shumway said she tried to choreograph a Regional routine the Lady Buffs could perform cleanly and consistently.
“We don’t want mistakes and we don’t want bobbles,” Shumway said.
“It seemed more like a Divisional because it was against half the teams that will be at State.”
That slightly more conservative philosophy worked for the Lady Buffs at Regionals, but now their attention turns to State. And with the competitive season ending Saturday, Shumway said her team will replace that philosophy with what she called a “do or die” mentality, upping the difficulty level wherever possible to maximize the number of possible points.
“We started off and finished extremely strong,” Shumway said. “There are a few things that we’re going to tweak before we go to State next week.
“If you go to State and you play it safe, you’re not going to place.”
McAlester will take 18 to State this year. They’ll compete in four stunt groups, composed of two groups of four and two groups of five.
Having an extra cheerleader on the ground, Shumway said, in no way means that group will perform easier or harder stunts than any other.
“As far as today went, all 18 of us are nice and healthy and hopefully ready to go for next week,” Shumway said.
“We all have to hit the same stunts, and we all have to hit them solid.”
Shumway credited her squad’s success to a combination of experience and physical conditioning. The Lady Buffs have been training since at least last spring, either on their own, as a team or in McAlester’s Summer Pride program, and it’s paid off on the mats.
“We’ve been working double-time, really, because we’re constantly practicing two hours a day on competition stuff,” Shumway said.
“Yesterday we had a three-hour practice before we even showed up for the football game.”
The Lady Buffs showed no signs of exhaustion at Friday’s game, and Shumway said cheering on as the Buffs beat Claremore provided an extra bit of inspiration heading into Regionals. After enjoying a brunch provided by the booster club, the Lady Buffs boarded their bus to head to Bixby.
As a sign of solidarity with their fellow Friday-night performers, members of the McAlester football team and head football coach Bryan Pratt formed a tunnel leading into the bus to cheer on the cheerleaders.
Shumway said the Lady Buffs will cheer on the Buffs at Noble on Friday, drive 90 miles north to Stillwater and spend the night there before heading to OSU in the morning. McAlester’s exact performance time hadn’t been announced as of Saturday night, but Shumway said she expected it to be in the afternoon, as Classes 2A, 3A and 4A will compete first.
The Lady Buffs have been to the last eight State cheerleading meets. A combination of inexperience and injuries led to a 23rd-place finish in 2012, but this year’s squad seems neither inexperienced nor injured.
“I’m definitely more confident in this year’s team,” Shumway said.
“I would expect us to perform as well if not better than we performed today, and I was very pleased today.”
After months and months of training, the Lady Buffs have one last two-minute performance ahead of them before the competitive season ends.
Shumway, senior captain Sarah White and fellow seniors Madison Taylor and Taylor Burmeier all hope those last two minutes will be their best.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.