BLOOMINGTON — The resounding success of some recent University High School competitive cheerleading squads gave this year's team, composed primarily of newcomers, a proverbial "tough act to follow."
U High coach Drew Miller prefers to look at the positive side of earlier teams raising the bar to unprecedented levels.
"It definitely gives us motivation," said Miller just moments before U High took the floor at this weekend's IHSA Competitive Cheerleading State Finals, which got underway Friday morning and continues Saturday at Grossinger Motors Arena.
With only four squad members back from last year's team that finished a school-best fourth in the Co-ed Division, the Pioneers responded to the challenge with their fourth straight sectional title a week ago to qualify for this weekend's finals.
Unfortunately, their quest to advance out of the preliminaries and into Saturday's final round of 10 for the sixth straight year came to a close when the Pioneers finished 15th on Friday.
Injuries reduced the U High squad to 11 members by the time this weekend's finals arrived.
"There were trials, tribulations, obstacles we had to overcome," Miller said. "We went from 15 to 11 people and that's the lowest number we've ever competed with."
The Pioneers were one of five area schools to qualify for this year's finals with Normal West joining U High in the Co-ed division, Bloomington competing in the Medium class and Dwight and Eureka in the Small division.
None were able to advance beyond the first round of the finals, with West finishing 20th in its class.
Bloomington finished 17th among Medium Division schools but has the rare distinction of having been to the finals every year they've been held, dating back to 2006.
Although performing in her fourth consecutive finals, Purple Raiders' senior Christi Haggerty said she still experienced "butterflies" before the lights went up on the arena floor.
"Being at state for the past four years, I've gotten used to it, but the nerves were definitely still there," Haggerty said.
Teammate Brooke Misukonis, a senior who placed second in last spring's Class 3A state pole vault competition, echoed the sentiment.
"I'm a lot more ready this year because I know what I'm getting myself into," she said. "But still, the adrenaline is there and all of the excitement."
Raiders coach Lea Menning had a prescription for the jitters before BHS took the floor.
"We told them to just go out and have fun," said Menning, who challenged this year's squad with a routine that was chock-full of movement.
"At the beginning of the year we knew that we wanted to have it jam-packed," Menning said, "and they continued to want to put more and more into the routine as the year went on."
That led to extra hours of practice.
"You have to sacrifice, but in the end it's worth all of it," said senior Camryn Newsome.
Dwight and Eureka, no strangers to the state finals, represented the area in the Small Team class.
Dwight, the 2013 state champion, made its sixth straight finals appearance and ninth overall. The Trojans barely missed advancing to Saturday's final round by finishing 11th in Friday's prelims.
Eureka made it's 11th state finals appearance and finished 15th in Friday's preliminaries.
While none of the area schools advanced, Eureka co-head coach Krista Swanson echoed a comment that was prevalent throughout the field of 100 schools that are competing this weekend at the arena.
"This is the culmination of the end of our season," she said. "It's just an honor to be here at state."