Daviess County’s cheerleading program continued to build on their recent success this past weekend when they captured their first state championship in school history with their Game Day performance.
The Lady Panthers reached 98.3 on the day to seal the victory, taking a perfect score to make them the best team in the Commonwealth. They knew they had done it too, as they burst with excitement when their performance came to an end.
“It was incredible, it was by far the best performance we’ve had all year,” said head coach Kitty Jones. “I perform music for our routine so I’m stuck watching on the side most of the time. I got a feeling based on the energy level, but trainers Sally Ward and Tracy Gutsche confirmed it when they stood up at the end of the presentation. The girls knew it too, as we all cried backstage in celebration, and as the coaches told them, no matter what the results, they really nailed it.
Jones said they set the tone the Sunday before the competition with a big pep talk about what it takes to win, including effort and focus for the week of practice, stepping up the moves and adding spirit to any dead areas. She said the girls helped troubleshoot problems, make suggestions and apply feedback when provided, and ultimately lead them to victory.
“The girls took to the mat with confidence and energy,” Jones said. “There will be some things we adjust for Nationals, like some placement areas.”
Daviess County also beat State by a full point, with Woodford County gaining second at 97.20 and Knox Central third at 95.20. This state championship is Daviess County’s cheering number one, having finished runners-up the last two seasons, as well as 2014 and 2015.
Jones said winning this title is special for the program, but especially for the veterans who have fallen short in recent years. She said the senior class was instrumental in helping build the team through the season to reach this moment, while also giving credit to the team as a whole for handling adversity well.
“They did it together,” Jones said. “From the seniors setting expectations and trusting the coaches’ decisions to the rookies and alternates working hard to develop the skills needed for success. Junior, Keeli Johnson, was extremely ill most of the week leading up to Friday and is front and center in the whole routine. A decision had to be made whether or not to keep it or replace it with an alternative in fear that it would fall out during the routine. The decision wasn’t made until the second heat mat that she could do it and resist. Her would-be replacement, sophomore Kaylee Alexander, watched videos all day to prepare and got her first toe tap since backstage knee surgery, ready to step in if Keeli decided she couldn’t make it. Overall, the whole team put everything on the mat and noticed when it came out.
Jones continued, saying his seniors and coaching staff made the postseason monster win possible. The Panthers are still in another long postseason, proud of what they’ve built and looking forward to Nationals.
“The recent success of this program was not built overnight,” Jones said. “It started with graduates graduating in 2021 who were part of the construction process when they were freshmen. They deserve a tribute because they started the early development movement of our Game Day. My other coaches, Tracy Gutsche and Sally Ward, are excellent, each bringing a different perspective needed to make things work. This could not have happened without them, or the support of our Panther family.”
Jones also wanted to highlight the success of other local cheerleading programs, saying she is proud of the representation of western Kentucky cheerleading programs at the state level, which is typically dominated by eastern Kentucky.
“OHS performed great combining their squads for the first time, competing with them as one at the state level, placing eighth, Apollo came close in an extremely tough split, placing fifth, nearly four for other Western Kentucky teams. and our friends at Bowling. Green walked away with a state title in his division as well,” Jones said. “West Kentucky cheer is definitely on the radar and it’s exciting.”
Jones and company were more than satisfied with how they competed this year, beating division opponents with ease all season long. And as long as they can maintain their energy and continue to prepare well, the Panthers feel they can make some noise at nationals as well.
“This year has been great as we have gone undefeated in this division in all competitions,” said Jones. “The girls worked hard to set higher standards for each other and hold each other accountable. This was challenging at times as we really focused on having a team mentality rather than individuals hitting their marks. Going to nationals as Kentucky State Champion is big. We’ll have to stay focused and clean throughout January to meet our goal of being contenders at the national level. With the level of focus and dedication they had last week, anything is possible.”
But before they try to make a fuss and bring home more equipment, the Panther Nation will also have a chance to support them, with the school holding a spiritual walk on Wednesday, December 14th, recognizing the cheering and dancing. team for their achievements in the season.