DOVER — Strawberry Crest High School has enjoyed a smattering of athletic success in softball and basketball during its brief five years of existence, but the school's highest degree of recognition may come from cheerleading.
In their first appearance at the Universal Cheerleaders Association National High School Cheerleading Championships at the Walt Disney World Resort last month, the Chargers took home a fifth-place trophy out of 33 schools.
"We were super surprised and thrilled," said first-year coach Loveny Rivas.
Competing in the small varsity coed division, which included just two of a maximum four boys allowed, Strawberry Crest used its signature stunts to become the only school in Hillsborough County with a Top 10 national finish to the season. Blackman High School from Murfreesboro, Tenn., a national powerhouse, won a national title for the fourth time in the past five years.
The Chargers started the competitive season by repeating as the Western Conference champions, finishing tops among the 27 public high schools in the county. Strawberry Crest won by 45 points, which Rivas called "unheard of in cheer."
They followed with an FHSAA Region 3 small coed title and finished second out of 14 in the state's small coed division championship, placing for the first time since 2011.
"It's been amazing watching them compete," said John Masson, whose daughter Kelsey Howard is a junior on the squad. "They have been on top of their class all the way around."
Rivas, a Spanish 2 teacher at Strawberry Crest, was the assistant coach the past three years.
Her sister, Chelsea Martin, now serves as the assistant coach.
Rivas has operated her own choreography business the past three summers, one of the keys to the team's success. With more than 10 years of experience, she has produced more than 22 national champion titles.
This year, she took the critiques from each competition and implemented changes to enhance the routine.
"When it comes to the scorecard, it's like a rubric," said Rivas, who designed the routine to emphasize the squad's strengths while hiding any weaknesses.
Rivas added this feat is even more remarkable considering it was a "rebuilding season with eight freshmen and two members without previous cheer experience."
The national coed competition will be televised on ESPN at 9 a.m. March 22; at 3:30 p.m. March 23 on ESPNU; and 1:30 p.m. April 19 on ESPN2.
Eric Vician can be reached at [email protected]