Claim first at Best of Pasco, second at regionals
By Kyle LoJacono
The Wiregrass Ranch cheerleading team has had to prevail against difficulties this year, including losing coach Kara Babij for the Region 2 competition.
“I had my baby (Kaylee) two days before the competition and couldn’t be there,” Babij said. “I have a great assistant (Nicole Minott) and my mom (Pennye Garcia) stepped in for me and the girls performed like champions.”
Kaylee is Babij’s first child, born at 11:04 p.m. Jan. 6 and chances are she will follow in her mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps in cheerleading. Garcia currently coaches at Hudson High and has been leading Pasco County teams for many years.
Babij was a cheerleader at Land O’ Lakes High. She has also been an assistant with the Gators, Sunlake High, Mitchell High and Hudson and also a coach at Bishop McLaughlin. Now she is in her second year as an instructional assistant at Wiregrass Ranch.
Despite being pregnant for the entire cheerleading season, Babij did not cancel one practice.
“I knew we had a good team when we had summer workouts and I wasn’t going to let me being pregnant hurt their chances,” Babij said.
Senior Brittany Cox, who is one of three team captains, said Babij made it easy for the team when she had to miss a
“She’s so organized with what were supposed to do,” Cox said. “She has everything written down for us and her mom fills in a lot too. It’s made it easy.”
Babij said her captains, along with her mother and assistant, are the reason the squad has been able to succeed.
“They’ve taken on a lot of responsibility as leaders,” Babij said.
The squad also had to work with an influx of new, young talent. There are currently six freshmen on the team.
“We weren’t even allowed on varsity when I was a freshman,” said senior and team captain Emily Denbo. “It’s a little different because a lot of them didn’t have much experience, but they’ve all picked it up fast and are a big part of the team.”
Fellow senior and team captain Kelsie Brunke added about the new talent, “At the start of the year I wasn’t sure how we’d do because we had so many new girls. Now it’s like they aren’t even freshmen.”
The Bulls worked through growing pains, and their coach’s occasional trips to check on her new arrival, to come in first place in the Best of Pasco all girl division earlier this season, the first time the squad has won the event. The victory also made them Sunshine Athletic Conference champions.
“That has been the best part of this year so far,” Brunke said. “We’ve never finished first in any competition before.”
Wiregrass Ranch followed up that win with a second-place finish in the large varsity division at the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Region 2 meet Jan. 8.
The Bulls will next compete in the state meet Feb. 4-5 in Orlando. It is the second state finals appearance for the squad, who made the event during the 2007-08 season.
“It’s really exciting,” Denbo said of reaching states. “You get to meet new people on other teams and the road trip helps you get closer to your own teammates. Plus, the crowds are huge and that’s really cool to perform in front of so many people.”
The Bulls beat out Seminole High in Sanford by less than four points at regionals. Only the top two teams advance.
“It’s the first time FHSAA has had regionals for cheerleading like other sports,” Babij said. “I grew up with cheerleading the old way, so I guess I’m biased toward that, but in another way it creates that interest with other sports.”
Babij did not have any predictions for the state meet, but said nothing the team does surprises her.
“They are so amazing,” Babij said. “They work as hard as any other sports team at the school. We practice three times a week and we work the whole time. You can see how much they want to do well by their effort, and hard work usually pays off.”
-All results as recorded by the FHSAA.