LAKEWOOD RANCH — A grinning Marina Masterson huddles in the back corner of the gymnasium and anxiously awaits her turn to take the mat.
The Lakewood Ranch High senior nudges one of her teammates, and the two quickly scan the bleachers, making eye contact with their faithful followers.
Masterson offers a quick wave to her family and friends before turning her attention back to the task at hand.
Shortly thereafter, a hush falls over the crowd, as the Lakewood Ranch varsity cheerleading squad is finally introduced.
With her brown curls bouncing from beneath her crisp white hair bow, Masterson grabs her pom-poms and megaphone and bounds onto the floor for the annual Cheeriest Competition at Braden River High.
Through the duration of the routine, the Mustangs co-captain is completely in her element — her trademark smile never leaves her face.
But, there was a time when Masterson barely knew a high V from a high five.
A lifelong dancer, Masterson had no intention of trying out for cheerleading when she first entered the halls of Lakewood Ranch High School four years ago.
Instead of spending her Friday nights cheering the football team to victory, Masterson, who also plays the clarinet, envisioned herself playing in the marching band.
But Masterson never got the chance.
At the urging of her best friend, who wanted to try out for cheerleading, Masterson tagged along and tried out for the squad.
Later that day, while Masterson was at a dance class, she received a text message saying she had made the cheerleading squad.
“It was just overwhelming,” Masterson says. “It didn’t help that I was in a tryout group with the varsity captain. I didn’t even know what a high V was. I was just looking forward to getting to wear my uniform to school.”
Masterson was chosen predominately for her dancing ability — something she has been perfecting since she was 5 years old, at which time her mother enrolled her in ballet.
“She wanted us to have poise, sit up straight and have that discipline,” Masterson says.
Although she didn’t like going to class, Masterson loved performing and spent the majority of her time working her way from the back row to the front row.
Masterson joined the Sarasota Ballet when she was 11 years old, after moving to Florida. She began training every day.
Since then, Masterson has played the role of Ursula in the “Little Mermaid” and Jasmine in “Aladdin,” among other roles.
“I love character roles the best because there’s the acting part of it and then the dancing part of it,” Masterson says. “Jasmine was my favorite Disney princess growing up, so being able to play her was a dream come true.”
Now 13 years after slipping on her first pair of ballet slippers, Masterson is enrolled in the Sarasota Ballet’s upper division, where she currently takes only a handful of classes, as time allows.
Masterson plans to resume her regular dance schedule, which includes training three hours a day, seven days a week, once the cheerleading competition season officially ends Jan. 30.
Masterson also plans to continue to make time for her other activities, which include band, National Honor Society, for which serves as vice president, the school’s buddy program, Student Government Association and Manatee County Teen Court.
It may seem like a lot, but Masterson wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s worth it,” Masterson says. “I don’t know if I’m a control freak or just like to have my nose in everything, but if I see things that need done, then I want to be the one responsible for heading up those programs and clubs.”
But, perhaps one of her most important roles is one completed behind the scenes. Masterson choreographs all of Lakewood’s cheerleading routines, and although her teammates occasionally tell her the routines seem better suited for the dance team, Masterson hopes to use the experience, along with the choreography she has done at the Sarasota Ballet, to advance her one step closer to her goal of doing choreography for and teaching dance to children.
“Cheer dancing is the polar opposite of classical ballet,” Masterson says. “I had to learn how to be less graceful and more (bouncy). I don’t think I ever would’ve made cheer team without dance. I made it because of my dancing ability.”
Over the past four years, Masterson has cheered the Mustangs football team to a playoff berth and captured first-place finishes at the Manatee County Fair and Cheerfest competitions, among others.
Most recently, Masterson helped Lakewood captured a first-place finish at the Region 3 meet Jan. 25 in Tampa. Lakewood will conclude its competition season at the Florida High School Athletic Association Finals Jan. 30, at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.
“I don’t get nervous performing ballet, but I get so nervous for cheerleading,” Masterson says. “In dance, if I mess up I can save myself and I’m the only one to blame. But in cheerleading if I mess up, then the team suffers. It makes me nervous. I’m not used to that.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].