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MAHOMET – For those wondering why a fire engine’s siren was going off in downtown Paxton Saturday afternoon, there was no fire.
The fire department was merely escorting a sectional-championship winning squadron to its high school during a short-notice parade.
The sectional round has been kind to the Paxton-Buckley-Loda cheerleading team, as the Panthers earned a trip to the state meet in each of the last four years. In those four years, PBL always finished either third or fourth, advancing past the sectional round because it cracked the top five.
In Saturday’s Mahomet Sectional, however, the Panthers were second (or third or fourth) to none.
With a score of 86.6, PBL won its first-ever sectional championship in the small team division. Eureka finished second by tallying 82.73 points.
“I am so excited,” PBL head coach Amber Weber said. “The emotion I feel is so much happiness that it’s making me cry. It feels like the best feeling in the world.”
It was PBL’s second first-place trophy in two weeks, as the Panthers won the medium varsity division at the Illini Challenge Jan. 13.
“They deserved it,” Weber said after the sectional meet. “They were the cleanest routine here. They were loud. The had the best jumps. Overall, we weren’t perfect, but we had the best routine here and they deserved to win first place today.”
The Panthers won the sectional championship with a virtually flawless routine, as evidenced by the fact that the Mahomet Sectional judges did not put any deductions on their final score.
The credit is not mine,” Weber said. “The girls have that fire. They want to win it, and they came out aggressively. We practice hard. We spent the majority of our time focused on competitive cheerleading, and you see the results today.”
One of the Panthers two senior cheerleaders, Cacie Ekstrom, said it was the team’s goal to perform its routine as cleanly as possible.
“Clean and solid – that’s what we were going for,” Ekstrom said.
Among PBL’s highest scores were the 9.2 and 9.4 marks in jumps and basket tosses categories, respectively.
“We worked so hard on jumps,” Ekstrom said. “We‘ve practiced them during every single practice.”
The Panthers’ other senior cheerleader, Jordan Nijim, said things went smoothly despite some recent illness endured by some of her teammates.
“I think everything hit perfectly,” Nijim said. “Everything went perfect. Jumps used to be our lowest score. We couldn’t do it without all of us. We’ve had some ups and downs. We had people sick yesterday, and we just got through it all. (Kristen Batte) got sick at the game last night, but she was here and did awesome. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s been nine months, and I think it paid off.”
The only wrinkle to PBL’s routine, Weber said, was the scorpion to a scale stunt.
“That was our only slip up,” Weber said. “There was this little slip up there. There were no deductions from it, though, because (Shauny Davis) grabbed her leg, dropped it a little bit, but then she took it back agains and hit it. That was literally the only flaw in the entire routine. It happens when you’re nervous. Your legs start shaking, and that’s what you’re trying to balance on. Everything else, I would call it perfection. If we perform like that, we will do well at state.”
The Panthers will compete in its fifth consecutive state competition next weekend at Bloomington’s U.S. Cellular Coliseum, starting with the 25-team preliminary round Friday.
Weber said her team’s goal is to make it into the top 10 by the end of the preliminary. She said if last Saturday’s score is any indication, PBL should have no problem cracking the top 10 for the first time in the program’s history.
“Our scores are there to show that we have a very good chance of doing well at state,” Weber said. “We’ve never been there before, so we’re going to try to do something new for the program.”
If the Panthers finish the preliminary round, they will compete in Saturday’s final round.
“I think we have a good chance to make it to the second day,” Nijim said.
Ekstrom also said she likes her team’s chances if it can perform at state similarly to the showing it had at sectionals.
“I feel like if we hit it just like we did today, have lots of energy, (we’ll be fine),” Ekstrom said. “This is the best I’ve felt about our routine. It was the best routine we’ve ever had. Obviously, the judges are looking for things being hit right.”
The importance of a clean routine was emphasized by the scores of the top five squads of the small team division, according to Mahomet Sectional Head Judge Angie Wilmington.
“I know that to be in the top five, you have to be clean,” Wilmington said. “You have to hit all your stunts, and you have to have a lot of energy, so as long as they execute well, that’s usually how you get in the top five. When you watch 20 teams, it’s hard to remember one, but do remember that the top five (teams) were clean and executed well.”
1. PBL 86.8*; 2. Eureka 82.73*; 3. Paris 82.1*; 4. Shelbyville 81.73*; 5. Lexington 80.87*; 6. Monticello 80.57; 7. Fithian Oakwood 79.83; 8. Ridgeview 77.43; T-9. Peoria Christian 75.8; T-9. LeRoy 75.8; 11. Catlin 73.73; 12. Clinton 73.43; 13. Sullivan 72.1; 14. Prairie Central 70.17; 15. Manito Midwest Central 69.93; 16. Cerro Gordo 68.73; 17. Georgetown-Ridge Farm 67.23; 18. Macon Meridian 66.27.
1. Taylor Ridge (Rockridge) 86.9*; 2. Byron 85.13*; 3. Somonauk 84.63*; 4. Sherrard 80*; 5. Farmington 76.37*; 6. Hinckley-Big Rock 75.73; 7. Winnebago 75.47; T-8. Stillman Valley 73.93; T-8. Brimfield 73.93; 10. Lisle 73.73; 11. Oregon 71.57; 12. Genoa-Kingston 71.07; 13. Amboy 65.8; 14. Cambridge 60.1.
1. Roxana 78.6*; 2. New Berlin 77.63*; 3. Macomb 76.83*; T-4. Gillespie 76.57*; T-4. Winchester 76.57*; 6. Jacksonville Routt 76.53; 7. Kincaid South Fork 76.33; 8. Hillsboro 74.63; 9. Virden North Mac 73.73; 10. Riverton 73.67; 11. Williamsville 73.5; 12. Bunker Hill 72.93; 13. Piasa Southwester 71.07; 14. Raymond Lincolnwood 70.97; 15. Pittsfield 68.2; 16. Litchfield 68.2; 17. Waverly 62.5.
Small Team 2
1. Breese Central 83*; 2. Carlyle 82.67*; 3. Benton 80.43*; 4. Sesser-Valier 80.4*; 5. Effingham St. Anthony 80*; 6. Pinckneyville 79.53; 7. Carterville 79.13; 8. Brownstown 77.78; 9. Greenville 77.47; 10. Pana 77.33; 11. Freeburg 76; 12. Chester 75.43; 13. DuQuoin 71.8; 14. Nashville 67.83.
1. Dwight 88.53*; 2. Wilmington 85.67*; 3. Kankakee McNamara 84.13*; 4. Braidwood Reed-Custer 83.77*; 5. Clifton Central 81.2*; 6. Palos Heights (Chicago Christian) 80.83; 7. Elmhurst (IC Catholic) 79.6; 8. Momence 78.93; 9. Westchester St. Joseph 77.57; 10. Beecher 76.37; 11. Melrose Park (Walther Lutheran) 62.27; 12. Grant Park 56.33; 13. River Grove (Guerin) 56.27.
*- state qualifier