BRADEN RIVER — Tori Kwiatkowski would have given anything not to let her teammates down — even if it meant having to walk away from the sport she loved at the end of the season.
Last May, the Braden River High School senior co-captain suffered a stress fracture in her hip.
But rather than taking time off to let it heal, Kwiatkowski returned a week later and tried to put the pain behind her.
“I pulled through and returned to cheerleading,” Kwiatkowski said. “I was at a competition, and I fell and started crying. I didn’t let it heal. We needed to practice, and I didn’t want to let down my teammates.”
Now nine months later, Kwiatkowski is preparing to help lead Braden River onto the mat for the last time. On Feb. 11-12, Braden River will compete in the UCA National High School Cheerleading Championships at Walt Disney World. It will be the first time in school history that the squad has competed on a national stage.
“Last year we got a bid and didn’t have the funding,” Kwiatkowski said. “It was the most amazing feeling when (athletic director Bob) Bowling said we could go. I’m so grateful that they would think of us like that.
Braden River qualified for the UCA National High School Cheerleading Championships at the regional championships Dec. 3. It was the team’s first competition of the season. The girls finished third and were one of five teams to earn a bid to the national championships.
“I think they were definitely excited,” coach Dana Licata said. “They just wanted a bid, but to get third place also was very nice. UCA picks the number of bids it hands out, so when they said, ‘And fifth place with a bid,’ the girls all screamed. It was a great feeling because they knew they were getting a bid.”
“It’s awesome,” senior co-captain Cassidy Geiger said. “It sets the grounds for this school that the cheerleading squad has been to nationals. It’s awesome. It’s hard to explain. I can’t wait.”
Braden River will compete against 40 other high schools in the 1A medium varsity division. The girls will perform their two-and-one-half minute routine in the preliminary competition Feb. 11.
From there, the top 19 teams will advance to the semifinals. The top 14 teams will then move onto the finals Feb. 12.
“At the beginning of the year, I knew they had the potential to make it this far,” Licata said. “They have all of the components. It was just up to them whether they would perform and make it.
“I would be ecstatic if they make it out of preliminaries and into semifinals, which they are definitely capable of,” Licata said. “It’ll be up to how well they execute and the energy level they bring out there.”
Most recently, Braden River finished sixth at the FHSAA Competitive Cheerleading State Championships Feb. 3, in Kissimmee. The girls finished 12 points behind state champion Timber Creek, which finished third at last year’s UCA National High School Cheerleading Championships.
The girls know the competition will be fierce at the national championships and are focused on doing their best and enjoying the experience while they can.
“I just want to go out and have fun,” Kwiatkowski said.
“My goal for us is to go out and hit our routine both days,” Geiger said of the competition. “I want us to be able to hit everything and walk off the floor with no regrets and feel like we did the best we could. It’s not just about what place you get.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
BRHS varsity cheerleaders