Durant High School’s cheerleaders kept their eye on the state title all season, leading them to their first state championship.

Durant High School’s cheerleading team won its first state championship in the non-tumbling division at the beginning of February, overcoming obstacles, a dwindling team and intense practices.

Head coach Nikki Hand led her team to the state championship last year but fell short. So, she came into the 2023-24 season with a clear goal: finally get the state champion title.

“Everybody was just very, very focused. Everybody had the same goal,” Hand said. “Everybody was just kind of locked in to winning a state title.”

Durant’s cheerleaders doubled down during practices and put in extra time at home to put on their best performance. Still, Durant was challenged by obstacles, losing nine of its 20 athletes before the end of the seasons.

“We went through a lot of obstacles. We lost athletes along the way, to where we dribbled down to just 11, but it was the strongest 11 athletes that Durant has ever had,” Hand said.

Hand said each athlete stepped up as a leader throughout the season, making Durant’s first state title a complete team effort.

She motivated the team with inspirational videos and constructive looks at recordings from their practices. She prioritized team bonding and stressed goal setting during each practice. By the end of the season, eight months of practice had paid off.

In her 10 years of coaching, Hand has learned to change up practices to keep her athletes engaged. She hosted dice and Jenga games to determine what skills the team should practice to keep variety in their practices.

“I also like to open up to my athletes as well and ask them, ‘Hey, what do you want to work on today? What’s your main focus?’” she said.

This season, the team focused on stunting, which she said was a newer skill for high school cheerleaders. By the finals, Hand said the athletes had nearly perfected the skill.

“Something that they kept saying when we were competing at states was ‘hungry but humble,’” Hand said. “Knowing that we could hit this routine but staying hungry and humble enough to know that they had to work their hardest and put out in your perfect routine.”

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Lily Belcher
Lily Belcher is a writer for the Osprey Observer. She started as an intern in the summer of 2020 and has continued to write for the Osprey Observer since completing her internship. Lily is majoring in mass communications at the University of South Florida and is a staff writer for the university’s paper, The Oracle. She enjoys writing about local nonprofit organizations and community role models who have made an impact on her hometown.