Manchester Valley cheerleading reaches new heights with first district championship

Tabetha Harding began coaching the Manchester Valley cheerleading team last fall. Since then it has been a series of growth and program news.

Last year, the program made its first trip to the state meet. This year, the Mavericks won their first county championship.

The growing success came with a large influx of new student-athletes to the program and the dedication to learning more difficult tumbling techniques.

“The program has grown a lot in the last two years,” Harding said. “We have brought in 18 newbies this year, which is fantastic. It nearly doubled our program. And the freshmen are a super hard-working class. We have four seniors this year, really hard workers as well, really good leaders for our team this year.”

The Manchester Valley cheerleading team won the Carroll County championship in Westminster on October 29th. The growing success came with a large influx of new student-athletes to the program and the dedication to learning more difficult tumbling techniques. (Courtesy of Tabetha Harding)

The seniors have been the backbone of Harding’s team, guiding a relatively young group.

“Katie Martin is our game captain. She’s a really hard-working kid, really driven at practice, likes to keep the team focused,” Harding said. “Bella Canby is a ball of joy, she keeps everyone’s spirits up for training. … Hannah Wisniewski, this is my first season ever coaching Hannah. She is also an all-star cheerleader. She has been a huge help, constantly helping the JV kids. Ashley Martin is on our team as an alternate this year. She never really misses anything. She has been a really good support system for all the kids on both teams.”

At the county championships on Oct. 29, Manchester Valley scored 118.7 points to edge Westminster’s 118.3 for the county title. Century (114.4), Liberty (113.8), Francis Scott Key (113.3), South Carroll (108.5) and Winters Mill (104.25) finished behind them.

For Katie Martin, a county championship was a great way to end her high school career.

“As a senior, I can say it’s a pretty special feeling because it’s a great way to end my high school cheerleading career,” she said. “But I think for the program, it really just shows how much we’ve improved over the last couple of years, especially under new coaching. It shows us that we’re taking a step in the right direction.”

For Martin, mixing a few veterans with a large freshman group was a challenge, but one the team was able to solve fairly quickly.

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“I think as any new team is, especially in cheerleading, there were definitely some obstacles we had to overcome,” she said. “Especially with bonding and learning to trust each other, especially with stunting. But after, I would say, the first week, we were all super close, trusted each other with everything and just had a great bond.”

One of the main changes that came with Harding was an increase in tumbling. The team saw firsthand how effective tumbling could be at last year’s state competition. Harding said seeing it in action “really lit a fire under the kids to push themselves to be better.”

“We preached a lot about tumbling, a lot of kids who come into high school cheer don’t tumble, and it’s really easy to teach stunting and jumping and cheering and dancing and those parts of it, but tumbling is scary to learn because you upside down,” Harding said. “We preached about how important it is to have these skills, to also work with these skills outside of our practice.”

Armed with the new tumbling additions to the routine, Harding said the girls believed they had the ability to win a county championship fairly early.

“The school hasn’t had a lot of tumbling in the past and it’s really heavy on the score sheet,” Harding said. “So we knew we’d have a decent chance to get closer to maximizing our tumbling, but we have some really good programs in our county. Westminster and Liberty are really tough competitors. It was definitely a big surprise, but they definitely had county champions in their sights from the first day of testing.”

Manchester Valley fell short of a return trip to the state meet, finishing fourth at Saturday’s regional competition. But overall, it was a great finish for a group that grew together as more than just teammates.

“We’re all just one family,” Martin said. “We treated each other like siblings, we loved each other, worked well together and were able to laugh at our mistakes.”

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