ADAMS TWP — For seven years, Mars Area High School had no competitive cheering team.
The Planets put one together this season — and have wasted no time getting into the swing of competition.
Mars recently took first place in the Small Varsity Game Day Division at the South Hills Showdown, hosted by Bethel Park. The Planets then took first place at the Universal Cheerleading Association's Allegheny Regional Nov. 14 at Slippery Rock University.
“The girls have really taken to this,” Mars cheerleading coach Michaela Bonnett said. “I knew we had a lot of talent here, but I figured it would take a while for these girls to adjust to competing.
“They've just taken off with it.”
Bonnett and her assistant coach, Rebecca Lasko, were competitive cheerleading teammates at Blackhawk. They are in their second season coaching at Mars.
They wanted to begin a competitive team last year, “but restrictions from COVID prevented that from happening,” Bonnett said.
Mars' two captains, seniors Danielle Vactor and Sarah Hooper, have been cheerleaders since grade school. Vactor has been a competitive cheerleader in All-Stars while Hooper had not done that in years.
“I remember Mars trying to start a high school competitive cheer team my freshman year,” Hooper said. “We had 15 girls to start, then a few started quitting and it fell apart. The school didn't try bringing it back my sophomore year.
“If it wasn't for COVID, I believe we would have had a team last year.”
They're making up for lost time.
Mars does a three-minute routine, combining a performance to the high school fight song and a “Paint it Black” band dance. The Planets practice once a week for two hours, though they practice more often when a competition approaches.
The team will next compete at the 10th annual WPIAL Competitive Spirit Championships Jan. 8 at Hempfield High School.
“I'm confident we can do well there,” Vactor said. “A lot of girls on our team have done all-star cheerleading, so they were used to the competitive aspect. But high school competitive cheer is more difficult than all-star. The routine is more involved.
“We weren't completely blind-sided (by high school competition), but it is definitely different.”
Other seniors on the team are Morgan Beck, Kelsey Hulbert and Fayth Petruzzelli. Juniors include Alina Glentzer, Sydney Heim, Lucy Higgins, Mia Lipscomb, Ella Scholar and Madalyn Schwartzbauer.
Freshmen on the squad are Mackenzie Aufderheide, Ellie Koma, Brooke Southwell, Addisyn Vavala and Isabella Yoshioka.
“We knew we had some good talent and could do well, but we had no idea what was out there will be another step up.”
Mars has also earned a bid to compete in the UCA Nationals High School Cheerleading Championship Feb. 11-13 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.
“We've laid down a good foundation this year,” Bonnett said of the program. “I'm just super excited by how well they're doing. These girls are not intimidated when they go on the mat.”
They weren't totally relaxed, either.
“A little nervous, at first,” Vactor admitted. “But the fun took over. We love it.”
This year's success may prove beneficial down the road.
“Hopefully, more girls will be interested,” Bonnett said.