Sun Journal Cheerleading Team of the Year: Lewiston Blue Devils

Mar. 28—The Lewiston High School cheerleading team set the goal of earning a triple crown this season — first place at KVACs, regionals and the Class A state championship. The Blue Devils did just that.

Fifth-year coach Matt Hanley said the highlight for him was the goal-setting process and turning a dream into an achievement, especially for the squad's eight seniors.

2023-24 Blue Devils

"In the state of Maine, you have to put out a solid routine the first time you go out, the second time and the third, and really build on that," Hanley said. "That was the way to really be able to clinch the ultimate goal, which is the state title. We knew that if we could get in there and win KVACs and win regionals that we would have the lot for states and to be able to go and do that."

The dominant finishes by the Blue Devils make them the 2024 Sun Journal All-Region Cheerleading Team of the Year.

Last season, Lewiston placed second at the three postseason competitions. In the 2023 state championships, the squad scored a five on execution. This season, the Blue Devils scored a nine, which Hanley attributed to nailing a more advanced pyramid.

Part of that improvement came from the team's decision to focus first on the basics.

Hanley said the Blue Devils made a significant overhaul of their usual systems and schedules. For example, the team usually went from tryouts straight into learning choreography, which did not allow any time for skill building or tumbling techniques. This year, a greater emphasis was put on nailing technique before starting choreography.

Hanley said rushing the team to learn choreography had a negative consequence because cheerleaders who could not nail stunts or tumbling would have to stop and practice, wasting time for them and the choreographer, University of New Hampshire coach Scott Rigoli.

"As a team, we talked and we decided that we were going to pull it back to basics and do some skill building," Hanley said. "We pushed choreography a month later than we usually do it, so that way that we could come together as a team and follow the proper progressions, as far as stunting.

"When our choreographer came in, we had solid stunt groups and solid stunts, knowing that we could hit it, and then got the routine built all around those steps."

Senior and co-captain Jersey Cunningham said the team also worked harder in the offseason than in previous years, forming stunt groups and practicing tumbling months before organized sessions started. This was the first season the Blue Devils did extra team work outside of the season.

"My first three seasons that I was there, we didn't really come in before — we would tumble, but we wouldn't come in and stunt together," Cunningham said. "We all knew how bad we really wanted it, so we really wanted to do it for each other. Putting in that little bit of extra work for your teammates was something that everybody did."

Fellow senior and co-captain Reese Maynard said most of this year's squad also compete in All-Star Cheer, and cheer nearly every day of the week at various All-Star gyms in Lewiston and Portland.

"This year, we took bigger steps into the season, as we did reps and reps of our stunts and tumbling before we even started our choreography," Maynard, who is committed to cheer at UMaine this fall, said. "We'd come into practice at 2:30 (p.m.) and we'd be determined to get a new stunt skill every single day."

Cunningham said their determination and hard work didn't prevent the Blue Devils from having a lot of cheer in their cheerleading.

"We are very fun," Cunningham said. "Honestly, we don't work that hard during practices. I mean, we pull through when we need to, and we'll work hard most of the practice, but we also have time where we're messing around and we're joking around. If you came into a practice, you wouldn't know we won states."

This year's state championship is the 12th in program history.

The state competition was a big one for Lewiston and the surrounding community. A new thing Hanley implemented last season was inviting parents and all Lewiston cheer alumns into the practices leading up so that they could learn the cheers and scream them from the stands in Augusta. Maynard's sister, Emilie Levasseur, was one of the Lewiston cheer alumna who joined in on the pre-state madness.

"We literally got a comment on our scoresheet, 'Be louder than your crowd,' and it's like, 'Hey, you know, we can't help that our crowd is that hype,'" Hanley said. "The other thing, too, is that my team is really good to everybody around them, so other teams really want us to be successful. Knowing that everybody in the auditorium is there for us and wants us to do well makes a big difference."

Hanley said he has coached this year's group of eight seniors since they were 3 or 4 years old, and their depth of cheerleading knowledge will be a huge loss when it comes to next year's squad.

"With eight seniors, they hold such power on the team because it's a large, talented group," Hanley said. "I think the energy is what will be missed the most, because they know how to create energy. They know how to have fun, but they know how to work, and they are competitive."

Maynard said she was honored to serve as one of two captains this season, because it gave her the opportunity to mentor the younger cheerleaders on the team. This season was the first that Lewiston chose captains, and Maynard said the bonds she created with her teammates is what she'll miss most.

"Reese is that captain that you wanted as an athlete," Hanley said. "She will take time from herself and from her own stunts to stand in front of you and give you the corrections you need, and give you the energy you need to make sure that you're being successful so that the team is being successful."

Hanley described fellow captain Cunningham, as, "the energy," because she was a huge motivator and "hype girl" for the team, and always had the right thing to say at the right time, while also giving her best effort in competition.

Cunningham said she'll miss walking side-by-side with the same people she's cheered with since she was 2 years old, and the waves of emotions that occurred on competition days.

Following the October mass shooting in Lewiston, the cheerleading team's theme for the season was Lewiston Strong.

The Blue Devils' warm-up shirts and competition bows featured an outline of Maine with a heart near Lewiston. The phrase "Lewiston Strong," was also implemented into their music and cheers.

"I thought it was really good for our community," Maynard said. "It really brought people out and it really just helped us, I think, a lot. The crowd really was engaging more in our music, especially, because it was more about 'Lewiston Strong,' and our community coming together.

"I think it really grabbed the crowds' attention and just put us out there for everyone to help us."

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