In life, people have role models and inspirational figures who make a profound difference.
Without pause, The Dalles cheer squad head coach Kelsey Sugg-Wallace heaps words of praise to her former coach and friend, Kristi Maley.
Moments after her team struck their final pose, and amid the excitement, Sugg-Wallace and Maley shared a warm embrace.
“Kristi just came over and hugged me, and with tears in her eyes, she told me how proud she was of me. That is a moment I will never forget,” Sugg-Wallace said. “She has taught me everything I need to know and more about cheer. I wouldn’t be the coach I am today without her support.”
The Dalles scored a season-high 193.3 points to earn runner-up honors at the OSAA coed small division state championships Saturday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Across the board, TD had the second-highest point total out of every team in Oregon and outscored every 6A team, trailing only small division champion, David Douglas (196.4).
Henley placed third with 191 points, Lebanon tallied 180.7 to get fourth, Mountainside notched 180.5 for fifth and Crescent Valley ended up in sixth place following their 175-point effort.
“Our performance was everything I knew it could be, and then some,” TD senior Nathan Nañez said. “We went on to that mat with the mindset of having fun and showing the state that we are here to fight. I really think that this is why we did so well. We didn’t go into this thinking ‘it’s first or nothing,’ we went into this fighting for each other, not a trophy. It was entirely worth the buildup and wait through the snow and all to see my teammates faces after we hit that ending pose. They have all worked so hard this season and they deserved nothing less than what they got.”
For nine long months, 18 members of The Dalles cheer squad put in the blood, sweat, and tears and countless hours of due diligence for a two minute and 30-second routine.
Of the 21 other coed small division teams, the Riverhawks started their routine seventh in the order, behind Beaverton, Putnam, Redmond, David Douglas, North Salem and Clackamas.
The Dalles scored a total of 67.2 points in its building skills portion, added 64.1 in tumbling and jumps, and finished with a 62-point effort in overall routine for a combined 193.3.
Since the Hawks started in the upper third of the schedule, they had to wait four hours until the other teams performed, and all the scores were totaled up.
The public address announcer named off fifth place, then fourth, third and finally, second place.
“It was extremely emotional for me and I definitely cried happy tears when we were called for second place because this is my final year and our cheer team put so much into this routine and it paid off,” TD senior Mackenzie Smith said. “We put on the best routine we have ever done. I could not be any prouder of my teammates and myself. I couldn’t imagine sharing this victory with anyone else but them.”
For coaches, every year brings new challenges. Sugg-Wallace didn’t think the program would ever go coed, but then Caleb Parsons and Nañez attended team tryouts.
From that point, the Riverhawk coach had to reevaluate her team, the numbers and where to go from there.
“I remember just deciding one day we needed to switch things up after state last year and why not start out by entering a brand-new division,” Sugg-Wallace said. “The Dalles has never competed in coed before, so it was a completely different ball game for us. My kids knew what they were up against, but they accepted the challenge.”
Venturing into unchartered waters, Sugg-Wallace surrounded herself with assistant coaches Alli Miles, Summer Bathke, Jessica Rodda, and Meggan Erland, and enlisted Smith, Nañez and Hannah Wallis as senior leaders.
All those elements provided perfect symmetry in getting everyone on the same page, especially with four freshmen fliers, Mikiyle Brantner, Hannah Kortge, Meli Avila and Lizzy Olivan, new to the competitive cheer world.
A lot was thrown their way and they answered the bell.
“I believed in this team the whole way through,” Wallis said. “We have come so far from where we began, but I couldn’t have asked for a better team to end my senior year with and I could not be prouder of what we accomplished. I mean second in the state with the second highest score overall? That’s amazing. It brought tears to my eyes to know that all our hard work had paid off.”
With her fourth season in the books, Sugg-Wallace has three state runner-up finishes and a sixth in 2018.
Nañez is proud to have his name attached to those accomplishments.
Now, the returners will have a driving force to get the program’s 13th state championship.
“I know that this team has so much more in them and so much more skills and potential that they will tap into for this next year,” Nañez said. “It will take some amazing leaders, that are already on this team, to continue pushing them to success. Every single current junior is more than capable of leading this team and I have complete faith that they will pave this new legacy for TDHS Cheer.”
Through her high school career, Smith has been an integral part of the cheer program.
Just as Maley did with Sugg-Wallace, Smith appreciates the many life lessons passed on by her coaches.
“I can honestly say that being on this team has taught me so much about myself and has made me a more confident person,” Smith said. “Kelsey is an amazing coach. She knows her team’s potential and she pushes us to always do our best. Because of her, I have blossomed into the cheerleader and person I am today.”