By Brad Fauber
WOODSTOCK -- Central's cheerleading squad is preparing for its fourth straight state championship appearance, and the Falcons are ready for a little change.
The Falcons won three straight competitions this season before placing second in the Bull Run District meet on Oct. 27, losing the opportunity for the district title by just two points to host Clarke County.
Last Saturday at the Region B competition at East Rockingham High School, Central once again was the runner-up, this time to the host Eagles.
The Falcons have had just about enough of that.
"I think we're a little done getting second," said junior Eden Kibler before practice on Thursday. "I think we're like, 'Come on now, it's our time.' I think regionals really opened our eyes. We have the potential to do this -- we just have to put that one extra hard step forward. There's the finish line, go get it."
Central enters Saturday's Group A championship at the Siegel Center in Richmond after finishing eighth in last year's state tournament. In 2010, the Falcons were the runner-up, the best finish in school history.
Falcons coach Carrie Hodges said Central was happy to simply make the state tournament last season after losing a lot of members of the 2010 squad, but the Falcons had much higher aspirations entering this season.
"I think we have higher expectations this season, as far as our skill level and our execution level is definitely higher. We expect more this year," Hodges said. "And I think they expect more of themselves this year."
Hodges said the Falcons returned about half of last year's squad, but Central still has just one senior listed on its roster.
Central doesn't see its youth as a hindrance to what it has sought to accomplish this season -- and the Falcons' success this season has shown that.
Those that did return from last season's group have taken it upon themselves to help their younger, less experienced teammates prepare for high school cheerleading's biggest stage.
"A lot of us just tell the girls, 'We've been here, it's not so bad,'" Kibler said. "Yeah it might be states, it might be Richmond and we're in a big stadium, but it's nothing else that you haven't been doing for six days a week."
Central has put in an extreme amount of time and effort to get where it's at this season, sometimes practicing six days a week.
Cheerleading isn't all about the glitz and the glam -- becoming a consistent competitor at the sport's highest levels requires an intense amount of physical skill and conditioning.
"We've been working hard, taking practice seriously, and doing what we can to get better," said junior Kendra Coffey. "We do conditioning, we do running, we do everything. We go through full run-throughs of our routines multiple times."
Kibler said many people who don't understand the sport of cheerleading don't realize the physical toll it takes. She said the time and effort that the Falcons put into each and every practice rivals that of any high school sport.
"We do a lot of hard practices. We condition just as everybody else does, we work as hard as every body else does," Kibler said. "And we probably want it more than anybody else does."
All of that effort has helped Central improve greatly since the beginning of the season.
Hodges said the Falcons continuously work to improve upon their physical weaknesses, especially now as they work their way through the larger tournaments.
But Central's biggest improvement this year has been in the mental aspect rather than the physical.
"Confidence -- because with a younger team you don't always have that, and I think that has gotten a lot better," Hodges said. "You can tell when a team walks out if they're confident or not, and I think we've gotten to the point where we bring that confidence with us."
That confidence will play an important role in the Falcons' quest for the school's first state title in competition cheerleading.
At this point in the season, doing well during competitions is largely determined by the focus of the Falcons on the mat, according to both Kibler and Coffey.
"We know what we're doing -- we practice it a lot, so the physical thing is down," Coffey said. "At competitions it's all mental, telling yourself your next tumbling pass, the next jump that you do, the next stunt that you do -- you're telling yourself that you're going to stick everything."
The Group A cheerleading championship will be available to watch live online on the new VHSL Network.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org