Costa Mesa, Marina cheerleading teams win national titles
High school cheerleaders dream of winning a white jacket, which signifies talent and a dedication to the sport.
It comes when a team wins at the Universal Cheerleaders Assn. High School Nationals, held each spring in Florida.
Two local teams made their dreams a reality this year, competing in a virtual format where teams had to submit their videos and wait two weeks for the results.
The Costa Mesa High School cheerleading team, coached by Kori Johnson, won the coed nontumble division. It’s the Mustangs’ third UCA national championship, after winning in two different divisions in 2019.
Marina, coached by Vraunwyn Denny, came out on top in the medium nontumble division. It is the Vikings’ first win at UCA Nationals in program history.
Costa Mesa has developed quite a reputation for winning in recent years. It also won CIF Southern Section Division 4A championships in 2019 and 2020, the first two years cheerleading was a CIF sport. The CIF cheerleading championships were canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson is raising money to order championship rings for this year’s team. Following the two prior UCA Nationals victories and two CIF championships, the senior class of Kamea Binnquist, Monse Jaime, Dalianna Lopez and Donovan Roa will each have enough rings to fill up every finger on one hand.
“They’re an amazing class,” said Johnson, a 1990 Costa Mesa High graduate who has been the cheer coach at her alma mater for 17 years. “I’ve known them forever, since they were little kids. It’s amazing that we could end this way. They definitely are leaving a legacy, for sure … This year wasn’t wasted.”
Though Costa Mesa was unable to compete in stunt competitions throughout the year, the UCA Nationals provided an opportunity to compete at a big event. In the virtual format, though, it was a rush against time.
Johnson said the team had three weeks to put everything together and submit a two-minute, 30-second video. It took seven tries for the team to get the winning routine on film.
“We changed our pyramid the day we filmed,” said Jaime, a “flyer” for Costa Mesa and one of two team captains along with Binnquist. “It was definitely a mind game.”
Then, the Mustangs waited before finding out they won during an online awards presentation on April 23.
Johnson said she was not surprised her team was victorious. She added that it was sweet to win with her daughter, junior Kyra Johnson, on the competition team. Others on the team included juniors Emily Tsuge and Tessa Self and sophomores Meela Ly, Angelina Diaz, Madison Stein and Hailey Boudreau.
Jason Barfield, Toni Green and Desiree Garcia are Kori Johnson’s assistant coaches.
“This win actually means more to me than the last two wins, it really does,” Johnson said. “This team didn’t let adversity affect us. I think this team actually does better under pressure.”
Binnquist, overhearing her coach’s remarks, smiled and nodded.
“We harness those nerves to win championships, baby,” she said.
Marina also was left feeling good after its first UCA Nationals victory. Denny, who has coached the Vikings for 15 years, said her team has finished top-five the last few years at nationals but finally broke through.
“I’ve never seen a team so determined to make something happen so quickly,” Denny said. “It was amazing … They’re on cloud nine. They finally won nationals and got that white jacket.”
Senior captains Morgan Lane (side base), Mei Tran (side base) and Mariana Hacebe (flyer) led the Vikings. Chloe Ellis, who missed nationals with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, was Marina’s other senior.
Juniors Megan Lane, Carly Bauer, Riley Betts, Alyssa Castaneda, Kelly Bello, Maddie Montgomery, Cierra Hughes, Alena Uhamaka and Rachel Dankin also were on Marina’s roster.
Heidi Chisnall, Hannah Piper, Regan Drown, Maleah Gamblin, Leilani Neito and Braylinn Buckingham made up the Vikings sophomore class, while Jordyn Bustamante was the team’s freshman.
Lane, who said she missed most of her junior season with a torn labrum, said it was very gratifying to come back and win a national title as a senior.
“Every cheerleader’s dream is to get those white jackets, and we got them,” she said. “The feeling is indescribable. It’s just amazing. Unbelievable.”
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