By Kyle LoJacono
The Land O’ Lakes cheerleading team set a standard of success by winning the 2008 state championship, the first year the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) awarded the honor.
The Gators, who won the small co-ed division state title, have stayed competitive the last four years, but the current squad is out for more than just a state appearance.
“It’s a big legacy to uphold,” said senior Morgan Novotny. “You have to strive to be the best, because we’ve been the best, and we know we can do it.”
The squad lost seven seniors from last year, but the returning athletes feel confident in their ability.
“We just have to go out there and do it and uphold the Land O’ Lakes tradition,” said senior Abigail Lukacik. “I know everyone on the team really wants that ring,”
Andrea Burkhart, who is in her second full season as Land O’ Lakes’ coach, said there is some stress leading a team with such a winning tradition.
“There’s pressure here yes, but it’s not facility or staff putting it on us,” Burkhart said. “Myself and the girls put it on ourselves. … I wanted to coach here because I love the kids. I coach at an outside gym (Cheer Express Allstars in Oldsmar), so I knew a lot of the girls around here, and they asked me to apply for a (junior varsity) opening. It’s challenging day to day with teenage girls, but I love them.”
The Gators finished in the top three at states last year and placed second at regionals. They took sixth at the Class 1A-Region 2 large division meet Dec. 8.
“This year it’s a little bit of rebuilding,” Burkhart said. “I’ve got a lot of newbies. The seniors from last year are tough to replace, but we’re improving.”
Novotny agreed: “We didn’t do as great in regionals, but we’ve gotten so much better since then. Big improvement. … We just have to clean up our transitions and our stunts. We have the tumbling and we have the raw talent; we just need to tone it up a little bit. We’ll get there.”
Lukacik said it’s more about the mental aspect for them.
“As a team Land O’ Lakes has always been really tight on our motions,” Lukacik said. “We do that well. I just think we need to calm down when we’re on the mat. We tend to get really excited and rush and freak out. We just have to go out there and know we can hit it, because we’ve done it before. If we just calm down we can hit it so easy.”
Burkhart said a realistic goal is for them to make it back to the finals at states, which is for the top-three teams.
“I have high hopes for what we can do there,” Burkhart said.
The Gators compete at states Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 at the Kissimmee Convention Center.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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