GRAND RAPIDS – The Forest Hills Northern competitive cheer team doesn’t want to be labeled as a one-year wonder.
The Huskies qualified for the Division 2 Final a year ago for the first time since 1998, and are currently in pursuit of another trip.
“We had a breakthrough year last year.” FHN competitive cheer coach Carly Sienkiewicz said. “It was a great year, and I think a lot of our returners were excited to try to top it if we can and live up to that expectation.
“We wanted to prove that it wasn't just a fluke year, it wasn’t just a one-time thing. It's been driven by the girls to prove that we’re here to stay.”
Last season was definitely memorable for the Huskies.
In addition to a Finals appearance, where they finished sixth, they also won their first District championship.
“It was the coolest thing ever,” FHN senior Julie Fiser said. “To make it to state always seemed like such a big goal, and then to make it there last year was unforgettable. We were all so excited and so proud, and we’ve all been fighting for the same feeling this year.
“It has been a theme for us this season. We really want to repeat it and grow as a program and sport.”
The Huskies have put themselves in position to vie for another Finals berth with another outstanding season, led by the return of seven seniors.
FHN won the Ottawa-Kent Conference White championship for the third-straight year a few weeks ago and set several school records in the process.
At the final conference meet, the Huskies established program-high marks in each round (Round 1: 230.6, Round 2: 224.2, Round 3: 318) and overall team score with a 771.5.
“They’ve been doing great,” Sienkiewicz said. “We started off the year pretty slow and we had a lot of people come in and look at our rounds and help us as much as they could with technique stuff.
“I do that every year, but this year’s team just ran with it and was really diligent about applying it and fixing little details. That has been a big help in our rounds.”
Senior Alexis Linder said the last four years have been a culmination of improving and building toward acquiring high scores.
“We’ve broken records throughout my four years, but this was exciting, especially coming against our rivals,” she said. “We pushed through some adversity.”
The senior core has led the charge in helping the Huskies make a name for themselves within the landscape of the top teams in the state.
“It's a talented group, and a group that has been with our program for a long time, most of them since freshman year,” Sienkiewicz said. “So just a lot of returners with experience who can lead the new ones along.”
FHN competed Saturday in a Division 2 District and finished third behind Cedar Springs and champion Muskegon Reeths-Puffer.
The Huskies dealt with a few setbacks earlier in the week, including an injury, but did enough to move on and place among the four qualifying teams.
“It was a little bittersweet,” Sienkiewicz said. “Obviously we’re excited to move on and have an additional week together, but I think the team had higher expectations.
“We came off a strong three-week run and the conference championship, and then things happened that hurt some of our rounds, especially Round 2. We talked about how we had to regroup and decide that we are still in this to fight. I think we are going to be stronger going into next weekend.”
Another top-four finish at Regionals would put them back into the Finals.
“It’s sad that we didn’t get as high as we wanted (at the District), but we will take it and hopefully fight for another week,” Fiser said. “We will use that lower place as motivation and beat some of those teams that we’ve gone up against. We will use that as fire.”
The Huskies will attempt to overcome the hurdles that plagued them.
“The big thing is we have to execute where we can,” Sienkiewicz said. “Since we had to take our tucks out of Round 2, if we can execute on other higher-difficulty skills then that will help optimize our score. I think we will still be in the fight.”
Added Linder: “It will be hard, but we have to stay consistent with what we’ve been doing and improve the little things. We’ve had some setbacks, but we’ve been able to come back from those and we’ll just keep fighting.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS Forest Hills Northern competes during Saturday's District on its home mat. (Photos by Jamie McNinch Photography.)