Kelli Welhaf wasn't expecting the success the West Broward High School girls cheerleading team experienced this year.
Not after the team got a new coach in November and overcame injuries en route to winning the district, regional and state competitions for the first time in school history.
West Broward won the Class 2A Large Division - Non-tumbling title for the third consecutive year, while Coral Glades repeated by winning the Class 2A Small Division - Non-tumbling title. Both teams are honored as the Sun Sentinel Cheerleading Teams of the Year for the second consecutive year.
"It was a great experience to top it off after being state champions the previous two years," said Welhaf, a senior captain, who has been on the squad four years. She said the team had to learn a new routine and a new coaching style. "It was definitely rough to have the stressful year that we had, and to come back and have the year that we had was unbelievable. It was insane. We were not expecting to walk out on the floor and hit everything like we did."
Welhaf, who is planning on attending either FSU or USF, said like many of the cheerleaders before her, she plans on returning to the school and support the team at competitions.
"The team had numerous obstacles, injuries being the main one, to overcome from November to the States competition," West Broward coach Roy Lucas, who succeeded Brooke Nelson in November and watched his team score 89 points, which was the highest total in any of the classifications.
Nelson, a former FSU cheerleader, had coached West Broward to titles in 2012 and 2011 and left the school this year. "I walked into the program and had a few practices to choreograph, teach, and refine a new competition routine."
Lucas said his practices consisted of cardio, core strengthening and advanced cheerleading skills and the team started to see results in their scores.
"They were more mentally prepared and feeling more physically fit for the competition," Lucas said. "Each time the team hit the floor you could feel the anticipation coming from not just the athletes but also from their large support group ranging from parents, friends and family."
Lucas said this is the first season that the team has won all three major school sanctioned competitions - district, regional and states.
Coral Glades, which won the first state title in the school's history last year, duplicated the feat this season. Coral Glades also finished as state runner-up in the Class 2A Small Division - Non-tumbling three years ago.
"My team and program this year was the strongest and most talented it has ever been since Coral Glades opened," said Amber Armellino, who was in her second year as head coach. "The girls were so dedicated and committed to the end result which was flawless execution. Not only with the routine but with our season and ourselves."
Armellino believed from the start of the season that Jaguars had a good chance to repeat. The team also overcame illness and injuries during the year and alternate cheerleaders stepped in to fill the void. The team had graduated five from the state championship team.
"The girls performed confident and proved they were one of the best teams in Broward County and when they called our name for state champions for a second year in a row, it was an irreplaceable feeling," Armellino said. "I looked at their faces and saw their tears and excitement that I couldn't help but cry myself as I knew what they have been working so hard for and fighting nonstop for, actually happened and we came out on top."
Senior captain Erin Cowan, along with junior captains Taylor Bilecki, Sarah Galante and Bianca Garcia, said the Jaguars were confident going into the state finals, despite graduating five girls from last year's state championship squad.
"It was really cool to win a state championship in my last year," Cowan said. "I have been cheerleading forever, so the best thing was to go out on top. Competing against the teams (in Broward County) like we did prepared us and made us work even harder. We thought we had a really, really strong group and we just stayed humble. I'll remember the bond we had and it was just an amazing feeling."
Cardinal Gibbons nearly made it three state champions from Broward County, however, it lost the Class 1A Medium Varsity Division by one-tenth of a point to Indian Rocks Christian (Largo). The Chiefs have eight freshmen on a 16-member squad.
"They had their injuries and problems during the year, but peaked at the right time," said Cardinal Gibbons coach Susan Hanks, whose team won the state title in 2009 in the Non-Tumbling Division. "In the finals I thought we were perfect. The thing that really stood out to me was the showmanship. As far as I am concerned, it was a first-place performance for our girls."