When the North Central High School Competitive Cheerleading Team headed to the 2012 AA state championship at Bi-Lo Arena in Greenville, the squad was entering uncharted territory.
Then in their second year, the Knights had little idea as what to expect as they headed to the floor for their routine. The end result was a 12th place finish for Chelsea Sutusky’s squad.
Last Saturday, after five first place finishes in various events held throughout the Midlands and having qualified for the AA state championship for a second straight year, NC knew what they were getting into as the team took to the playing surface at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
This time around, Sutusky’s troops came home with a 10th place finish and, smiles all around. It was quite an accomplishment for a group which, at the start of practice, set just making it back to the state championship as one of its goals.
“A top 10 finish in the state was a big deal for our small team,” Sutusky said of her team’s showing on Saturday afternoon. “With our small numbers, I had no idea we would finish 10th.
“As a coach, I keep our goals manageable and realistic. After every competition, I ask the team “Where can we improve?” I don’t tell them what they did wrong; I ask them because I did not experience the error first-hand.”
Saturday’s competition in the capital city capped eight months worth of work for a team which will be cheering on the Knights and Lady Knights on the basketball hardwood this coming season.
Sutusky said plenty of hours of effort went into making this season a successful one.
“The team put in long hours this season beginning with conditioning two days a week in February,” Sutusky said of the months involved in cheerleading at NCHS.
“After tryouts in April, we practiced 15 days until the summer, and when summer finally got here, we practiced four days a week. The team had three weeks off during the summer, including dead week, but their summer was dedicated to cheerleading.
“In August, we stayed with the four days a week schedule with football games on Friday nights. September and October was a challenge for the team because we had to learn cheers, plan for pep rallies and practice for competition.
“I am extremely lucky to have such a dedicated team because this sport is not only physically challenging, but mentally challenging.”
Sutusky was quick to point out that the Knights are hardly a one-woman show when it comes to practicing and performing at games, events and competitions. That, she said, is where assistant coach Melissa Clyburn comes in.
Clyburn, said Sutusky, has played a key role in the program’s ability to reach the heights which it has over the past three years.
“Melissa Clyburn plays a huge role in our successful seasons,” Sutusky said. “Melissa designs her own choreography, and then teaches it to the team during the summer. She spends countless hours perfecting choreography and correcting the small errors I cannot see.
“Dancing plays a major role in a cheerleading competition, so I am forever grateful for her dedication to this team.”
Having moved up two spots in the AA championship this season, the Knights have already set their sights on improving on this year’s showing in 2014.
To reach that goal, NC will have to do it minus seniors Courtney Payne, Madison German and Breanna Boone. The trio has been part of the team since Sutusky took the reins to the program in 2010. Their coach said all three girls will be hard to replace and brought a lot to the program.
“They are the glue that holds this team together,” Sutusky said. “In the past four years, I have watched these girls grow into strong young women. Courtney, Madison and Breanna lead the team with their positive attitudes and drive for success.
“I am losing three essential team members this season, but I know they will take the knowledge and leadership gained throughout their four years of cheerleading and apply it to their everyday life.”