By Randy Whalen
After graduating 12 members of last season’s large school state runner-up team, Marist embraced the challenge of bringing home another state trophy in 2020 with a largely new squad.
That commitment to maintaining the excellence that has made the RedHawks one of the state’s premier cheerleading programs led to them once again taking home some hardware.
An outstanding final-day performance lifted them to a third-place finish in the large school division of the IHSA state cheerleading finals, held Feb. 7 and 8 at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington.
It was the third straight state trophy and fifth overall for the RedHawks, who placed second in 2019, 2018 and 2013, and third in 2012. They have qualified for state in 14 of the 15 seasons the IHSA has made cheerleading an official sport, only missing in 2015.
The five state trophies are the school’s second most in any sport at Marist, trailing only wrestling (seven), and are tops among girls sports. The RedHawks athletic programs count 31 trophies in their collective histories, 14 of those in girls sports, which began play in the 2002-03 school year.
“It feels great,” Marist coach Jordan Miller said. “I’m just super proud of these girls. The love they have for each other, that’s the key and they put it out on the mat [on the final day at state].”
For the second straight year and fifth time in the past seven seasons, Lincoln-Way East won the large school championship. The Griffins tied Elk Grove, which won the first five co-ed titles, for the second most cheerleading championships with five. Lemont leads with six, all in the medium school division, in the 15 years the IHSA has sanctioned a state series.
The Griffins’ score of 94.96 won the state title by over two points. It was also the second-highest of their five championship point totals behind their initial large school one (97.06) in 2014.
Stevenson (92.63) was second, Marist (92.04) third and Sandburg (89.83) fourth. Yorkville (89.51), Jacobs (89.07), Lincoln-Way West (88.33), Edwardsville (88.29), Joliet West (86.77), and Huntley (85.31) rounded out the top 10.
“I think it’s one of the best feelings, just being out there with your best friends,” Marist junior Ella McGrath, a three-year varsity member, said, “This year, because of how many people we lost from last season, so many people didn’t expect this. But we were able to get back on the podium and everything we did we owe to the coaches.”
Fellow junior Kelly Arvesen, who is also a three-year varsity member, agreed.
“We lost a lot of skill from last season but we showed our love for each other,” Arvesen said. “This is the hardest we’ve ever worked. It’s incredible and I just really love this team.”
The seniors on this season’s Marist team are Alexis Gaichas, Myah Gillespie, Nora Poole, and Caitlin Richter. There are 14 juniors. They are, Arvesen, Madison Bodin, Gianna Granat, Caroline Kennedy, Catherine Kennedy, Mattingly Malczewski, McGrath, Riley Misch, Natalie Mozdzen, Ashlin Palzkill, Bridey Regan, Delaney Ryan, Charlotte Sawicki, and Brianna Wesselhoff. The six sophomores are Delaney Budewitz, Laila Dorsey, Gianna Marie Ibrado, Eva Quebbeman, Sophia Sikorski, and Caitlin Stokes.
At the Niles West Sectional on Feb. 1, Marist was second (90.20) behind Stevenson (92.36).
In the state finals preliminary round Feb. 7, the RedHawks scored 88.93 and stood in fifth, but those scores don’t carry over to the second day of competition.
Sandburg places fourth
Sandburg was happy to get back to the final day after missing out on that last season. The Eagles, however, thought their final-day performance was much better than what they did in the preliminaries (87.16, 8th), and they finished in fourth, one spot short of another trophy.
“We’ve got the market cornered on fourth place,” Sandburg coach Mike Bruce said. “But I’m happy with the kids’ performance. All you can do is hit a routine. Then it’s up to others to determine your fate.”
The Eagles have qualified for state all 15 years and last won a trophy in 2017, when they placed third in the large school division. They have six state trophies, with three of them large-school state championships (2006, 2009, 2012) and a trio of third-place finishes (2008, 2010, 2017). They have placed fourth four times (2013, 2016, 2018, 2020) since their last state title in 2012.
“We still had a good season,” Bruce said. “We were [SouthWest Suburban] conference champs and also sectional champs.”
The seven Sandburg seniors are Alyssa Benard, Breanna Gasparas, Stephanie Gaspardo, Alexandra Henninger, Meghan McCurdy, Anna Piacente, and Caroline Schmidt. The juniors are Hannah Ford, Gabriella Gianakas, Amy Johnson, Kylie Kehlert, Lily Nevin, Ava Stroobosscher, and Victoria Vargas. The trio of sophomores are Madalyn Riebel, Elisa Shaheen, and Nicole Tatar. The freshmen are Olivia Gomez, Carrington Landers, Jessica Lawler, Anna Senese, and Sara Senese.
Other local teams that were at state but went out in the preliminary round, were Riverside-Brookfield (75.67), 23rd in the Medium School Division, along with Shepard (83.49, 15th) and Reavis (83.19, 16th) in the Co-ed Division.