NEW PORT RICHEY
The YMCA Wildcat All Stars of New Port Richey have spent the past eight months preparing to defend their first state championship.
Two weeks ago, everything for the team changed as five girls left the squad, forcing the 15 remaining team members to completely change their routines.
"I was really surprised when it happened. I sat down and spoke with the team about having to change the routines, the girls just had a great attitude about it," coach Wendy Cassetta said. "They just brushed themselves off and moved forward."
Along with the new preparations, the team was forced to switch divisions, going from a Large Junior Level III team to a Small Junior Level II.
As part of the change, the girls are unable to perform back flips.
After spending more than 200 hours rehearsing the old routine, the Wildcats will only have had five weeks before the 2008 state championships at Cypress Gardens on April 5.
Some of the girls were forced to change roles on the team, making the transition even more difficult.
Eleven-year-old Haiven Fivecoat went from helping hold another girl, a position called a base, to a flyer, the person being tossed in the air.
"It's kind of scary being a flyer because you get up so high," Haiven said. "When you're a flyer, you're the one who gets seen mostly. It's my favorite thing to do now."
Being a flyer requires being able to stand perfectly still, an understanding of how to hold the body correctly, excellent balance and learning how to land without risking injury.
"It's very, very difficult to learn how to do that, and for her to do so well after two weeks is impressive," Cassetta said. "Until you actually get up in the air and have to do it, I don't think you realize how hard it is."
During their last tournament, the Wildcats placed sixth out of 10 teams in their new division.
"I was just really glad that we didn't come in last place," Haiven said. "We had to learn a lot of new things really quickly so I was a little scared."
The team feels with even more practice, they'll be able to fully adjust and return to the success they've previously had.
Part of the reason for the team's optimism is that the new routines Cassetta set up aren't as complicated as the ones when the team consisted of 20 members.
"I think our team did really well in our last tournament. I think that we're going to become really good because our routines are getting sharper," base cheerleader Stephanie Gause, 13, said. "I think we can get some first-place trophies."
Even with the team's rapid improvement, Cassetta said the most impressive aspect of the team has been the positive attitude.
"They are really in a good place and they're very motivated," Cassetta said. "Even with all of this going on, they're still just as good as anyone out there and they can still bring it."
Got a story idea? How about young athlete worth writing about? Then submit info, feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.