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Crystal River cheerleaders are champions

Crystal River Middle School cheerleaders have plenty to cheer about these days. They are champs. And not just any champs _ national champs.

The squad took first place at the U.S. Cheerleading Open, which was held recently in Orlando.

Crystal River Middle language arts teacher and cheerleading sponsor Irene Hupp, who coaches with exceptional student education teacher Terry Yant, couldn't be more proud.

Competitors were grouped into divisions, Hupp explained. Her squad was the only one in the small/middle school division. But being the only squad in a division did not translate into an automatic first-place finish.

Far from it.

More than 200 squads participated, and divisions were determined by size of squad, whether the squad was a school- or business-sponsored all-star team, and the age level of the cheerleaders. The age groupings ranged from "peewee" to community college.

To reach the finals, Hupp said, her students had to earn at least the average score of all the third-place winners in the other middle school divisions.

To win first place in the finals, the Crystal River team had to score at least as high as the average of all the middle school teams competing in the finals.

Fourteen cheerleaders participated in the competition. (There are 15 on the squad, but one was unable to attend.)

The 13 seventh-graders were Amanda Bass, Marlana Camden, Katie Dicks, Nicole Davis, Tiffany Daniel, Jilica Smith, Hailey Roberts, Amanda Mayor, Jackie Vivian, Kylee Zarro, Alyssa Parker, Brittany Jones and Sabrina Gonzalez. An eighth-grade team member was Amber Luginsland.

Hupp also took her and her son Rusty's Rage All-Star squad to the competition. The squad placed third in its division.

The girls on that team were Nicole Davis, Brittany Kellner, Danielle Rushing, Amber Byrd, Caitlin Camp, Saxon White, Helen Sickler, Khristin Leach, Ashley Tobey, Alaina Neff, Emily Lehman, Frankie Villani, Samantha Heaney, Amanda Monbleau, Ashley Clark, Shannon Harden and Cara Hotz.

"When I go to these competitions, I never go with the expectation that we're going to win," Hupp said. "I just expect them to do their best and when they win, it's an added bonus."

Coach Terry Yant, top left, Jilica Smith, Nicole Davis, Tiffany Daniel and coach Irene Hupp show off their trophy after competing in Orlando. The others are, middle row, from left: Alyssa Parker, Amber Luginsland, Amanda Bass, Kylee Zarro; and bottom row, from left: Sabrina Gonzalez, Amanda Mayor, Hailey Roberts, Marlana Camden, Katie Dicks and Brittany Jones.