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Panther cheer and dance head to state competition

The Powell High School dance team performs during halftime of the boys’ basketball game against Lyman Feb. 8 in Powell. The dancers will compete in the State Spirit Competition March 6 in Casper.  The Powell High School dance team performs during halftime of the boys’ basketball game against Lyman Feb. 8 in Powell. The dancers will compete in the State Spirit Competition March 6 in Casper. Tribune photo by Dante Geoffrey

Panther aim to lead cheer in Casper

With less than a week to perfect their routines, the members of the Powell High School cheer team are aiming to bring home a trophy from the State Spirit Competition in Casper.

The Panthers will perform in both the stunt and non-stunt competitions March 6 at the Casper Events Center.

Senior captains Nikki Gonzales, Lexie Nemitz and Chelse Schwab are optimistic heading into their last high school competitions.

Their main goal is to place in the stunt category, which the team said is more competitive and holds in higher regard than non-stunt.

“Our routine is a lot better than our team’s (routine) from last year,” Schwab said.

Head coach Vicki Walsh said her team has a good shot of placing if all of the stunts and jumps are executed and the formations remain tight.

“We have a really good stunt routine … we’re just keeping our fingers crossed,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales was part of the 2010 Panthers cheer squad that won the stunt competition and was runner-up in the non-stunt. Her success as a freshman, along with her three years of cheer has given Gonzales the experience to help lead, alongside her fellow seniors, some of the younger cheerleaders.

Schwab said she’s able to help teammates with routines, but more than that she’s able to tell them what to expect at state, something she wishes was explained to her as an underclassman.

Nemitz recalled the anxiety brought on by the packed house and stiff competition at Casper.

“I thought going to Casper for the first time was nerve-wracking,” she said.

If the best way to proactively fight nerves is through practice, the team should be thrilled with daily practices that Walsh said can run as long as two hours.

Schwab described the practices leading up to state as emotional.

“There’s a lot more pressure as it’s getting closer,” she said.

But there has been pressure on this team in one form or another even before state loomed in the imminent future.

Cheerleaders struggling with school, injuries and personal issues have left the team in limbo at different points this season.

“We’ve gone through a lot of obstacles but I think it’s made us strong as a team,” Nemitz said.

The team has been working on the routines it will perform in Casper since the fall.

“We’re just now starting to get everything together,” Gonzales said.

But Powell’s role as host of the boys’ regional basketball tournament will cut into the team’s practice time.

The cheerleaders will be performing during some games’ halftime shows, which Nemitz said is a double-edged sword. The team will use the tournament as a place to workshop their non-stunt routine in front of a crowd.

“It cuts into practice time, but it’s also a good opportunity for us,” Nemitz said.

More than winning, Walsh said she wants the experience of traveling with the team and competing to be a positive one for the girls.

“I just want to make sure the girls have a good time,” Walsh said.

For the seniors, it’s a bittersweet feeling to know they are making their last bus trip to Casper as part of the Powell cheer team.

“It’s a good time to bond. It’s really fun to spend that time with the team,” Gonzales said of the road trips.

Schwab said her favorite memories from state competitions are the moments immediately following a routine’s conclusion. This year the team hopes the moment following this year’s routine is filled with a moment hoisting a trophy.

PHS hopes to victory dance

With only two returning members, the Powell High School dance team will have to overcome its inexperience to place at the State Spirit Competition in Casper.

The 12-girl squad, most of which had no dance experience previous to this year, will look to accomplish two goals at the March 6 competition. First and foremost, the team has its eyes on a trophy.

“We’re a lot of beginners so it would be awesome to place,” said sophomore assistant captain Cydney Barrus.

First year head coach Carin Johnson said the team has the talent to succeed, but has to put it all together to finish in the top four.

“If they go to state and they perform to the best of their abilities there’s no reason we shouldn’t place,” she said.

The competition will be held at the Casper Events Center, a venue that will present an atmosphere unlike anything most of the dancers have seen before.

“I’m sure that is probably going to be a little intimidating but I’m just hoping that they can pull through that,” Johnson said.

Junior captain Whispy Coleman, one of the team’s two veterans, said the pressure of the big crowd is inescapable.

“Getting on the floor was really nerve-wracking. You just really feel like you need to prove something,” she said.

If the team doesn’t place, it won’t be for lack of effort. The team has been holding strict three-hour practices in various locations all over the Big Horn Basin due to the busy athletic schedule and limited space at Powell High School.

The team has practiced at the old high school in Byron as well as the Cody Center for the Performing Arts, where the dancers took advantage of the studio and mirrored walls.

“I feel like we’re a lot more prepared this year and we have a good chance to place,” Coleman said.

Coleman said the team is also striving to beat the team from Lovell.

“When it comes to dance, Lovell is pretty much our rivals,” Barrus said.

Powell is at a bit of a disadvantage in a head-to-head matchup against Lovell. Lovell’s dance team begins practicing in the early fall, while the Panthers didn’t begin preparing their state routine until the beginning of February.

“It would be a big accomplishment to beat them,” Barrus said.

The team’s dance routine was choreographed by Julia Heny, who was Johnson’s dance coach in high school.

“She’s the brains behind the routine,” Johnson said.

Johnson hopes the routine earns the Panthers a score of at least 80, which would be an all-time high for a Powell dance team.

The team will not be performing during the regional basketball tournament (Thursday-Saturday) so it can focus on its state performance.

“The girls have really shown a lot of improvement just within the last month,” Johnson said.

Barrus said the team’s confidence has been boosted by returning members Coleman and Abby Martindale.

“We’re all really excited to perform,” she said.

The team will perform one two and a half minute routine that will be judged on several categories, including technique, staging, degree of difficulty, synchronization, choreography and musicality.

The team will hold a dress rehearsal that is open to the public Monday at 5:15 p.m. at Powell Middle School.

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