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BLOOMINGTON -- For the second consecutive week, Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s cheerleading squad reached new territory.
After clinching its fifth consecutive state appearance with its first-ever sectional championship in Mahomet last Saturday, PBL achieved yet another first in its program’s history – advancement to the state finals.
The Panthers earned an appearance in the finals with a score of 81.8, putting them in a fifth-place tie with Kankakee McNamara.
“It’s the best feeling ever. I’m glad I got it my senior year,” PBL cheerleader Jordan Nijim said. “It’s been our goal every year and we finally got it, so we’re pretty happy.”
They will perform at 12:10 p.m. today in Bloomington’s U.S. Cellular Coliseum, competing against nine other Small Team Division squads.
“It feels amazing,” Cacie Ekstrom, PBL’s other senior cheerleader, said. “We’ve never done this before, and I’m just glad to be a part of it. I am so excited. This is the first year that we’ve ever gone this far. I feel like we might even be able to move up in places tomorrow.”
PBL head coach Amber Weber said she shares Ekstrom’s confidence with her team’s routine at the state finals.
“I think the girls have the cleanest routine out there,” Weber said.
The Panthers reached the final round of the state meet despite the absence of one of their flyers in freshman Shauny Davis, who could not compete due to undisclosed reasons.
Another freshman, Kylie Mercer, was thrust into the spotlight – and to the top of the pyramid. Junior Amanda Diesburg replaced Mercer at her position.
“I was really nervous. I was scared that I wasn’t going to get it,” Mercer said. “It would have been better if it was a different competition, but I had to step up for state, and it was really scary. Everyone was really supportive in telling me I could do it. That really kept me going.”
Through a good week of practice and some team unity, Weber said, Mercer and her teammates were able to overcome the obstacle of not having Davis available.
“They hit it. It wasn’t too much of a difference,” Weber said. “Ultimately, I’m proud of them for pulling together, working practice this week and not giving up. Kylie did awesome. I’m so proud of Kylie. She was scared. I know she was nervous, but it didn’t stop her from hitting everything today.”
Ekstrom said her team was too determined to let a setback like Davis’ absence ruin its chances at state.
“I don’t even know,” Ekstrom said. “We just wanted this so much that nothing was going to stop us from fighting for what we wanted. It was an unbelievable feeling. We just worked so hard the past two weeks getting everybody ready. I am so happy. I’m so proud of Kylie She was amazing.”
Although Davis could not perform at state, Weber said Mercer and the other flyers were able to count on her for guidance.
“Shauny was very supportive of her flyers,” Weber said. “She helped them, teaching the other flyers different techniques. She was supportive all the way.”
Nijim, in turn, said Mercer did her part in the routine that gave PBL a shot at the state finals.
“Kylie really stepped up and did her part, and everybody just adapted and we did it,” Nijim said. :I’m proud of everybody.”
No matter how PBL fares in today’s state final appearance, Nijim said her goals for her final season as a Panther cheerleader were already met.
“I’m proud of how we did,” Nijim said. “I would have been happy whether we made it to the top 10 or not because it was our beat performance and we did everything perfectly.”
Ekstrom said she shared Nijim’s sentiment.
“We have had such a successful season,” Ekstrom said. “We’ve been so strong this year. I think this season went extremely well. I don’t even know what to say – I’m on cloud nine. This is a great feeling. I love being a part of this team.”
IHSA STATE MEET
At Bloomington (U.S. Cellular Coliseum)
Small Team Division
1. Dwight 87.3*; 2. Taylor Ridge Rockridge 86.62*; 3. Breese Central 83.8*; 4. Byron 83.78*; T-5. PBL 81.8*; T-5. Kankakee McNamara 81.8*; 7. Braidwood Reed-Custer 80.94*; 8. Carlyle 80.52*; 9. Sesser-Valier 80.22*; 10. Somonauk 79.86*; 11. Lexington 79.82; 12. Wilmington 79.8; 13. Shelbyville 79.7; 14. Sherrard 79.32; 15. Effingham St. Anthony 79.18; 16. Macomb 79.08; 17. Roxana 78.76; 18. Eureka 78.28; 19. Benton 77.64; 20. Clifton Central 77.4; 21. New Berlin 77.24; 22. Paris 76; 23. Farmington 75.4; 24. Gillespie 74.88; 25. Winchester 73.48.
* - advanced to finals