ST. GEORGE — The cheerleading teams from Desert Hills and Crimson Cliffs high schools won their respective 4A state championships on Friday.

Competing at the state competition at Utah Valley University in Orem, the Desert Hills Thunder captured first place in the all-girl category, while Crimson Cliffs won its second straight state title in coed.

Desert Hills cheerleaders hold aloft trophy after Thunder won the state 4A title in all-girl cheer, Orem, Utah, Jan. 26, 2024 | Photo courtesy of Crimson Cheer, St. George News

Desert Hills head coach Sandi Lyman said her team bounced back from a second-place finish to Snow Canyon at the Southern Divisional round in Delta on Jan. 6.

“We went home from region, and I think our girls were pretty discouraged, because we had also had a competition a few weeks before, where we also took second to Snow Canyon,” Lyman told St. George News on Saturday.

“So I kind of just went over (the divisional) score sheets all weekend and just, you know, crunched numbers and really tried to look over routines and stuff. And then, I went to practice Monday and I could tell that the kids were discouraged.”

Lyman said she told her team:

I do not know why you’re discouraged. You look defeated to me, I think you think that we can’t win. But I’m here to tell you we can. Like, we can do this. I know we can. I know the areas that we can hone in on, that we can fix. I know we can do this.

Lyman said that after her pep talk, one of the girls spoke up and said, “Okay, if you say we can do it, then we believe you.”

The team, which comprises 33 girls, then spent the next couple weeks practicing hard and perfecting their routines, Lyman noted.

“They just practiced and worked like I had never seen before,” she said. “They were the most coachable, hard-working, positive, energetic team that I’ve ever had the honor of working with. It was really an impressive thing to watch happen.”

Desert Hills cheerleaders and coaches pose with trophy after Thunder won the state 4A title in all-girl cheer, Orem, Utah, Jan. 26, 2024 | Photo courtesy of Crimson Cheer, St. George News

Friday morning’s 4A state competition started with the show cheer category, which Lyman said is the most challenging of the event categories.

“Show cheer is the one that incorporates the most difficult skills … the tumbling, the tosses and stuff like that,” Lyman said, “It’s extremely difficult and it’s extremely scary. It’s nerve wracking. There’s a lot of pressure.”

“And so, we were working a lot with them this week on feeling that pressure and embracing that pressure, and letting it fuel you instead of scare you,” she added. “And when we walked out to get ready for them to be announced, I just felt like this calm over them, and excitement, and they’re having fun, as opposed to being nervous.”

When the Thunder took the floor to do the show routine, they performed it perfectly, their coach added.

“I’ve never seen them hit it better,” she said. “They knew that they nailed it.”

Lyman said she told the girls she’ll always remember the excitement of that moment, even if she lives to be 90.

“Just that feeling of, you guys just left it all out there,” she said. “You did everything that we asked you to do and there was nothing more that you could have done.”

Desert Hills ended up placing first in three categories — game time, show and cheer — to earn top overall honors. Runner-up Snow Canyon placed second in each of those same three events. Also from Region 9, Dixie took third overall at state, taking third in show and first in dance.

Lyman’s squad made it back to town Friday night just in time to be on the sidelines for the Thunder’s home basketball game. The cheerleaders were given a police and fire engine escort from the Bloomington Hills Walmart along Brigham Road to Desert Hills High School parking lot, where they were greeted by a crowd of cheering fans around 6:50 p.m. Then they went inside the gym and cheered the Thunder boys to a 55-45 win over Pine View. 

“It was a fun, fun day,” Lyman added. A long day, but a fun day.”

Crimson Cliffs cheerleaders and coaches pose with trophy after Mustangs won the state 4A title in coed cheer, Orem, Utah, Jan. 26, 2024 | Photo courtesy of Crimson Cheer, St. George News

Meanwhile, in the coed division, Crimson Cliffs swept first place in every category as it captured its second straight state title.

Crimson head coach Becky Erickson said that almost exactly half (20 of 41) of this year’s team was also on last year’s championship squad, while the other half are new to the program.

“We wanted to defend our state title,” she told St. George News on Saturday. “We’ve known that all year. Obviously, you want to win again, right? But we have really tried to focus on winning as much. Of course, we wanted to defend the title, and that was the end goal, but it wasn’t something we tried to focus on all year. What we really tried to focus on was just trying to find that team unity, especially with 20 new team members.”

Added Erickson: “You can’t just want to win, you have to have to start from team unity and learn to love each other. And then success, usually naturally, will come.”

A big part of that, she noted, was focusing on things within their control.

“In any sport, but especially in cheerleading, in the middle of the routine, there’s things that are going to happen that you can’t control,” she said. “And so you have to just learn to focus on what you can.”

Crimson Cliffs cheerleaders perform during state competition, Orem, Utah, Jan. 26, 2024 | Photo courtesy of Crimson Cheer, St. George News

Erickson said the Mustangs went into the state competition feeling “ready and confident.”

“We really truly did hit every single routine flawlessly, like it was the best that they’ve ever done all year long,” she said. “It was so amazing, you know, not just as coaches, but to have those kids come off the floor … they were literally crying in the tunnel because they knew they did the very best that they could.”

“As a coach, you can’t ask anything more from your athlete than to go out there and give everything you have and more, and that’s exactly what they did,” she added.

“We’ve had a really great season, but the best we’ve ever done was yesterday,” Erickson added. “That was the best feeling, to end on that. Honestly, as a coach, even if we wouldn’t have won, that’s all I would have wanted from them, is to go out there and do what they just did. And then, of course, winning just made it even better.”

Erickson also expressed her appreciation for the parents and fans who supported the team throughout the season, particularly those who attended the state competition.

“Crimson Cliffs had one of the biggest crowds there,” she noted. “We had so much support and we could hear so many people yelling for us and cheering us on.”

“Being a part of such a great community is such a blessing,” Erickson added. “I mean, I’ve only lived here for two years and I’ve been so blown away by the support down here. It makes a difference, too.”

Erickson said the team’s celebratory parade has been postponed until Monday, since they (like Desert Hills) also cheered at a basketball game as soon as they returned home from northern Utah.

“We got home as quickly as we could, changed into our uniforms and went and cheered for the last three quarters at the Crimson Cliffs at Dixie boys basketball game,” she noted.

Additionally, two other Southern Utah high schools brought home state championship trophies in competitive cheer, with Beaver winning the 2A coed state title and Piute winning the 1A coed championship. Those competitions took place at UVU on Thursday.

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