About this time last year, seniors Clay Healy and Lucy Schlacks and their Lyons Township High School competitive cheerleading teammates were deeply concerned about the future of their season.
By February, under new coaches Sharon Lupo and Ana Samaniego, the Lions were in Bloomington competing at their first IHSA-sanctioned state meet in program history.
“It was crazy. It was like this surreal moment. I don’t think any of us were generally believing we could make it,” Healy said.
With several returnees and another entire year together, the Lions have even higher goals.
Other team members are seniors Kennedy Clarke and Emerson Lenigan and Jalene Sanchez, juniors Samantha Borkowski, Frances Chevalier, Tommy Chyna, Charlotte Judy, Grace Maciag, Jillyan Martinez, Ashley Mills, Molly Peake, Emily Roberts, Mia Schlichter, Annie Scodro, Will Taylor, Ella Thornberg and Ally Colantuono and sophomores Maddie Brennan, Grace Lannon, Devon Mackenzie, Melissa Marquez, Annie Sarno and Katie Villareal.
Healy and Schlacks are fourth-year varsity cheerleaders. In all, 22 Lions return, although two are injured and now serve as managers.
“They have an amazing chemistry because a lot of them have worked together so long. … And they have a good work ethic so those three things can make anything good happen,” Lupo said.
The Lions needed new coaches in mid-season last year, resulting in at least a week where the athletes were on their own. Lupo and Samaniego, who have coached together for 10 years, were sought out particularly because about half of the Lions had worked with them as youth cheerleaders in the Lyons Football Club program. They began after winter break.
“There was a sequence of four or five days where we didn’t know what was happening,” Schlacks said. “They came in and they were truly amazing. We were so grateful.”
Needing a top-five finish at the Lockport Sectional, the Lions were fourth in the Coed Division (88.80) to qualify for state. They finished 22nd of 25 state teams (84.23).
“It was honestly unexpected because we felt like before it’s never been done. Our hearts were racing,” Schlacks said. “Everyone was just so shocked and excited that we get to go someplace new with a team we’ve worked so hard with all year.”
Hard work continued through the off-season. The Lions hope to execute higher-scoring skills and achieve higher goals – winning the West Suburban Conference Silver Division Meet and not only returning to state but challenging for the second-day finals with a top-10 preliminary finish.
“[Last season] they were good making it. They were good performing what they had well,” Lupo said. “They definitely after last year got fired up.”
Schlacks said the Lions’ first run-through of last season’s entire routine was their competition opener. The Lions entered this season’s opener with an already tweaked routine they’ve gone through a couple of times.
So far, they’ve finished second at Marian Catholic and third at Joliet West and received a berth to the ICCA Championship.
“It just feels so good to be prepared and feel on top of everything,” Schlacks said. “We can really go far. We are prepared to go far this season.”
“Even now I feel like we’ve never been closer as a team,” Healy said. “A lot of our team is people from last year and if not there’s new, amazing people that we’ve been teaching things. It’s a very fun experience to do that.”