The Carrollton High School cheerleading squad put together its first perfect season in program history en route to winning a second consecutive Class AAAAA state championship last Saturday.
But to fully appreciate the accomplishment, one must first understand where the journey to the pinnacle began for this hard-working group.
In April, the Trojans held tryouts and pieced together the new team for the 2018-19 campaign. Following tryouts, they partook in four-on-one practices throughout the spring before holding three to five practices every week in the summer. In addition to practices, Carrollton attended two camps over the summer before getting into the fall routine of practicing every weekday and competing every Saturday.
Carrollton head coach Elizabeth Sanders says her team doesn't quite have a year-round schedule, but added, "It's pretty dang close."
"These girls are working every single day to be a Carrollton cheerleader," Sanders said. "If they're not in tumbling classes, they're exercising, eating right, doing something to better themselves for the program."
With such a demanding schedule, the Trojans face the challenge of being successful in their sport while also dedicating time to making sure they're triumphant in the classroom.
Senior Kaston Caldwell spoke about how being part of the team encouraged her in her studies.
"I feel like cheer makes me a better student because I know I have to stay on top of my grades," Caldwell said. "And it helps me be a better person because I know people know I'm a Carrollton cheerleader, and I have to represent that in the best way."
This year's senior class was tasked with overcoming another challenge — expectations.
Having won a Class AAAA state championship their freshman season and a Class AAAAA state championship their junior season, the Trojans entered the season looking to send their seniors out as the most successful class in program history with three titles in four years.
"Honestly, it probably made it harder for us to go for the third one because we had that expectation of winning," senior Hadley Greene said. "You have to be just as driven to win, and it can't just come to you. You have to go after it, and you have to get it."
The season progressed and the Trojans were victorious week after week, developing another level of pressure as they realized they had the chance to put together an unblemished campaign.
Senior Taylor White noted that she and her teammates were fueled by the desire to go undefeated. She said they constantly reminded themselves that they had to demand perfection on a daily basis in order to reach that goal.
"The teams we faced, we were neck-and-neck with them and we knew we just had to be the best every single time," White said. "It's not like we're so much better than all these other teams, so it was easy to be undefeated. We had to be perfect almost every single time to win."
Carrollton finished the regular season undefeated and rolled into the region championship meet on Nov. 3 at The Coliseum on the University of West Georgia campus with high spirits.
"We went into region feeling really confident, but just knowing that we had to continue our region streak of winning," Sanders said.
The Trojans did just that by securing a first-place finish to clinch their seventh straight region title and punch their ticket to the state championship. After one final routine at the GHSA State Championships at the Columbus Civic Center last Saturday, the Carrollton seniors were immediately overcome with emotion.
"It's kind of weird because after we competed, I had never seen the entire team cry," senior Dajah Sheppard said. "And we got done, went behind the curtains and we all just started balling."
"Usually, teams do that when they mess up or they cry because it was the best thing they've ever done," added Greene. "But we were crying because it was our last time being together as a team. That was a moment I'll never forget."
Soon the calendar will flip to 2019 and Carrollton will begin retooling its team for next year.
Sanders won't be too concerned about losing the talent she's had in this year's seniors, because she knows help is on the way. Instead, the most difficult challenge will be letting go of the class she's developed a powerful bond with over the years.
"We're really lucky at Carrollton. Our junior high and JV programs are stacked, so I know the talent is going to roll into that next team," Sanders said. "So it ends up being more of an emotional thing just because I'm lose those kids I've coached. Some of these girls, I've been their only coach they've had since fifth grade. That's more of the emotional side for me."