HOWARD CITY — The Tri County competitive cheer team is headed to the state finals this Saturday.
The 18-member Vikings team clinched a spot in the eight-team Division 3 finals by finishing fourth in Saturday’s regionals at Rockford High School. The top four teams from that regional advanced to the state finals.
“Oh, my word, it’s amazing,” exclaimed senior Leah Nagy, who will head to her second state finals, which will be held at the Delta Plex in Grand Rapids. “I’m so glad we made it this far.”
In the regionals, Comstock Park took first place, followed by Paw Paw and Lake Odessa Lakewood. Vikings head coach Jennifer Laskey said Tri County finished 20 points ahead of the fifth team.
“Overall, we had a very clean, nice performance,” Laskey said. “We had some small bumps but we definitely did well enough to secure fourth place.”
The 12-team regionals had three rounds of performances, in which Tri County was tied for second in both the first two rounds. Though she was confident, Nagy said she and her team held their breath a little bit once the judges announced the placings after the third round.
“It was a nail-biter to the end,” Nagy said. “We were feeling pretty good going into the third round, but we had a stunt drop so that’s what made us a little nervous.”
Fellow senior Taylor Castle looked to Escanaba as the team to gauge against for fourth place, but when the judges announced Escanaba in eighth place, she sighed a bit of relief.
“I was excited when we heard that, but then I thought, oh no, where are we?” laughed Castle. “But the team performed so great and we were so confident throughout the whole thing that, there was no doubt in my mind we made it in the top four.”
This year’s team has four seniors on the team. Nagy said her underclassmen teammates have been a huge asset this year.
“Everybody has just stepped up this year,” Nagy said, “especially the underclassmen. As a senior, I really appreciate that because we seniors can be everywhere all the time. They’ve done an amazing job this year.”
The Division 3 state finals will include Tri County, Comstock Park, Lakewood, Flat Rock, Monroe Jefferson, Paw Paw, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and Richmond.
Laskey said Paw Paw and Notre Dame Prep, which is seeking its fourth consecutive state title, will be the favorites coming into the finals.
Three years ago, Tri County made its first state finals appearance, finishing in eighth place, which Laskey said the team was merely star-struck. The following year, the team made it to the finals again and finished seventh.
This year, Laskey said the team’s mindset is not so much unfinished business as it is to just enjoy the experience.
“I told them to just do what they can do and know we can do it,” Laskey said. “Our goal is to finish in the top five but we really just want to turn some heads and show what Tri County is all about.”
Castle remembers her first state finals experience, which she described as nerve-racking. But now, as an experienced senior, she has more confidence in herself and the team.
“We have a lot of underclassmen who’ve never gotten this far, so we seniors have been telling them to just have fun and do what you can do,” she said. “We tell them it’ll go fine, your body knows what it’s doing. Going into it, I just hope we beat our best scores and have fun with everyone.”
“It’ll be a brand new experience for a lot of us, with the big crowd and the best of the best in teams that will be there, but we just have to stay focused and do our jobs,” Nagy said. “We have to remember to enjoy the day for what it is. Enjoy the moment.”
The Division 3 state finals will start at 6 p.m.