It has been a little over a week since the Ipswich cheerleading team returned home from Kentucky. The Tigers spent four days in Louisville (Kentucky) for this year's National Championship competition and have earned the title of Division 4 champions.
Scoring 79.9 out of a possible 90 points, this was the first time in the school's history that the cheering team made it to this level of competition.
"Each year we plan goals," said four-year head coach Kristen Almquist. "We weren't quite aiming for nationals, but by the end of the season it was an added bonus."
Almquist has built the program up ever since she started back in 2008 and the team has progressed at a steady pace. In her second year as coach the Tigers qualified for regionals, her third year they qualified for states and then this year they made it all the way to nationals.
The team has been practicing since the last week in August. As football cheerleaders, the team's regular season ended back in November, but their bid to nationals added an extra three months to the season.
"After states (in November) the girls practiced twice a week in preparation for nationals," said Almquist. "We were able to practice at gym in Amesbury, since it was difficult to use the high school gym because we were in the midst of the winter sports season."
Almquist and her team spent much of this time in between competitions raising the funds to make the journey down South. With the flights and hotel prices, the trip was well into the thousands as far as costs is concerned and the community did what it could to support the local team.
"It was amazing to see all the donations we received from the community," added Almquist. "Everyone was behind us 100 percent and we're really lucky to be part of a school system such as Ipswich that is stepping up and identifying these girls as athletes."
The team ranges from ages 14-18 and is lead by its three senior captains, Alex Cayer, Olivia Leonard, and Sidney Hardie. Since starting the season back in August, the girls have been committed to training and strengthening their abilities to take it to the next level.
"They make my job a lot easier," Almquist said of her team. "They're like a family and are so appreciative of each other and everything that they've achieved. I can't ever gush enough about them because you don't get teams like this everyday. "
The surreal experience in Kentucky was made complete when the trophy was delivered to the high school just a few days after the girls got back. The trophy was too large for the team to take with them on the plane ride home, so it was shipped separately with the championship banner.