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Sickles and Alonso Capture Competitive Cheer State Titles

It was twice as nice for the Westchase area when Alonso and Sickles captured titles during the Florida Competitive Cheerleading State Championships at Exactech Arena in Gainesville.

And it ended in perfect style for the rival high schools when the friends and neighbors cheered for each other. Sickles, competing in the Class 2A Small Varsity category, captured its fourth straight state title. Alonso, competing in the Class 2A Small

Non-Tumbling category, won the first state title in program history.

“We heard our name ‘Sickles’ get announced and we were celebrating, then Alonso got announced right after us,’’ Sickles coach Gianna Richko said. “That was so exciting. A lot of the girls are friends and I’m close with their coach. So all the girls ran over to each other. It was a super cool experience for all the kids.’’

“It was great to have Sickles with us,’’ Alonso coach Ann Lucas said. “We got to share the moment. There’s a lot of mutual respect and friendship. It made it even more special.’’

Lucas said she felt her Alonso team had a legitimate state-championship opportunity because of its superior stunting skills. But nothing was certain. And the road to Gainesville was rocky.

“I think it’s a tribute to their drive and their determination,’’ Lucas said. “We endured some mishaps. We had some people quit at mid-season. I think everybody realized we had to work hard and pull together in order for this to work.’’

Lucas and her athletes were pleased with their finals performance. But they still didn’t know their fate until the scoring was made official.

“I think at the moment [of the announcement], it was a complete shock to all of us,’’ Lucas said. “We had no clue. We knew we did our best, but we were not expecting it.

“Between the parents, the coaches and the girls, with everybody screaming so much, it was like a reality check. Like, ‘Hey, we did this … this actually happened.’ We have gotten a lot of recognition around the school and people are starting to appreciate our sport a little more, knowing how hard we work. So that has been great.’’

As for Sickles, after its fourth consecutive state title, the Gryphons are practically running out of slogans.

Year One: Making History!

Year Two: Back-to-Back!

Year Three: Three-Peat!

Year Four: Um …

“Four-Peat?’’ Richko wondered.

Maybe. But one thing is certain. Sickles’ state title was far from a four-gone conclusion.

In fact, Richko and her athletes said they believed the opportunity had been squandered after making some uncharacteristic fundamental mistakes in the final routine.

“We left the door open [for another team to win],’’ Richko said. “I didn’t think it was possible for us to win. We didn’t expect to hear our name get called. We were definitely preparing for the worst.

“We were a little shocked. It was bittersweet because we didn’t like making those mistakes when it mattered most. But we were happy to get the championship again, for sure.’’

Alonso team members included: seniors Jacqueline Banas, Kasey Clarke, Anelise Herbig, Callie Mehl, Molly O’Donnell, Lexi Smith and Keegan Strong; juniors Amanda Arrillaga, Kathryn Benninghhoff, Sophia Blaze, Delaney Murray, Maria

Sanabria and Alexa Westmoreland; and freshmen Emma Blaze, Dalia Benninghoff, Taryn Herbig and Madalynne Rizzo.

Sickles team members included: seniors Adria Darr, Lilly Martin, Mackenzie Neel, Miranda Sullivan, Shyanne Way and Tate Wymer; juniors Natalia Achecar and Isabella Kane; sophomores Mia Hardwick, Allison Martz and Lauren Slaybaugh; and freshman Ella Palmeiro.

Darr, Martin, Neel and Wymer will graduate with four state-championship rings. As a freshman, Way was a member of Sickles’ first state-title team in 2016, but she was injured and unable to compete.

The Alonso Cheer Team is currently undergoing a fundraising initiative to help purchase a Championship Ring for each of its 17 members. For more on how you can help, email

By Joey Johnston


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