The Payson Longhorn cheer team isn’t usually the center of attention.
Normally, the squad performs on the sidelines leading cheers for the basketball or football teams.
But they took center stage at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley on Saturday in the Arizona Interscholastic Association State Spiritline Championship.
PHS finished ninth in Division III among the 10 teams qualifying for the finals. Only 10 schools advanced from a field of 23 schools in the qualifier at Goodyear Estrella Foothills in November. It’s the first time since 2011 Payson has had a team qualify.
“It’s the first time they’ve made it to state in four years,” said first-year Payson cheer coach Katie Klein. “The fact that they made it at all was a huge accomplishment for the girls.”
Teams get one shot to impress the three judges.
“It’s a two-and-a-half-minute routine,” Klein said. “That routine consists of any tumbling, stunting, which is throwing girls in the air, etc., dance and a minute of that routine has to be a cheer.”
Phoenix Northwest Christian won the state championship.
The PHS team consists of seniors Hanna Golembewski and Bailey Patterson, who both were on the 2010-11 squad that qualified for state, as well as Taylor Mansoor and Gabby Suarez.
The team’s six juniors are: Kelsey Barlow, Emily Hoffman, Zoe Wright, McKenna Cave, Rebecca Osier and Chelsea Cobb. The four sophomores are: Aimee Armstead, Ashley Cleary, Brittany Staub and Shayla Shannon. Rounding out the squad are freshmen Grace Golembewski and Shyenne Fowler.
Sophomore Loren Peters was there as an alternate in case one of the others was unable to compete.
PHS was the No. 10 seed entering the finals based on their performance in the qualifier. So they moved up a spot in the competition.
“We were excited about that,” Klein said.
She said it was an experience she thinks will help the squad in the future.
“We got a really great feeling about the process — what the judges are looking for and what we can do to improve ourselves to place higher next year,” Klein said.
Five members of the Payson team also competed in a stunt team qualifier during the cheer qualifier in November and finished 12 in the division. The top 10 teams in that event, which features a one-minute stunt demonstration, advanced to state. That team consisted of Hanna Golembewski, Bailey Patterson, Taylor Mansoor, Zoe Wright and Aimee Armstead.
Klein said it’s nice for the girls to get to perform in a showcase like the state championships.
“We’re really proud of the girls and what they worked hard for,” the coach said. “It was a new experience for the majority of them and it was a fun and unique experience. They don’t get to show off as a team because they don’t play in games like other teams. This is their one shot to show everybody what they can do.”