Senior Darby Gaughan and most of her Riverside-Brookfield High School competitive cheerleading teammates already know the excitement of competing at a state meet.
Reaching the second day of state with a top-10 preliminary score this season would be the first time for all of them and the first since 2010 for the Bulldogs, a state qualifier the past three seasons and five of the last seven.
“Top 10 is definitely our motivator. That’s where we’re keeping our eye,” Gaughan said. “I think if we keep looking there, we’re definitely going to hit it. We do compete against extremely good teams, so we are humbled at our competitions, but we have to look for something so that is our reaching point.”
Seniors Giana LaPorte, Brooke Schwarte and Gaughan are tri-captains for an experienced RBHS roster.
Other team members are seniors Tiffani Boone, Ellie Hlavaty, Veronica Hunt, Lauren Justus, Sophia Koerner, Hannah O’Flaherty and Stephanie Ortiz and juniors Isabella Arreola, Madison Bernal, Logan Hoyd, Kamryn Koehnen, Allison Prochaska, Victoria Rimpila, Bridget Roudenbush and Aiden Smith.
Last year’s 18th-place finish in the Medium Division (81.37) after a qualifying top-five sectional finish (4th, 84.27) was the Bulldogs’ highest state performance since 15th in 2014. They finished between 23rd and 25th the previous two seasons and in 2017 and 2016.
“We definitely got a taste of what it’s like to be near the top 10 and we’re very ambitious this year,” LaPorte said.
“We’re constantly trying new things and just wanting to be better but we’re also just working really well as a unit.”
New coaches Tricia Schroeder (varsity) and Lauren Vara (junior varsity) are the program’s third set of new coaches in as many seasons, but both cheered for RBHS and were part of the Bulldogs’ first IHSA state-qualifying team in 2006, its debut season as an IHSA-sanctioned sport. That fifth-place Coed Division lineup also placed fifth at the National Cheerleading Association nationals.
More than a decade ago, Schroeder previously served as RBHS assistant under longtime head coach and mentor Chris Borzym.
“It’s been really helpful having that experience. It’s pretty cool to step in now after having such an influential coach,” Schroeder said. “[State] was something they talked about a lot from the beginning. They have really great technical skills when it comes to tumbling. I’ve got a lot of seniors so that type of leadership going into sectionals and state is what’s going to be key.”
LaPorte said the team’s stunting already is far ahead of last season. At this season’s first regular-season meet, they finished fifth in the 79s behind four teams that scored in the 90s.
Schwarte has competed at the past three state meets, including the 2020 meet held virtually because of COVID-19.
“I’d say the more times you go to state, it just really builds your confidence, and you know what to expect, looking at other teams,” Schwarte said.
“[State] motivates all of us a ton because we want to keep the streak going.”