Wildkats qualify for national competitions

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It could have been a mistimed jump or misplaced toe touch, only the judges know.

Whatever the small error one that was probably invisible to a regular observer- it kept the Northwest Colorado Wildkat Cheerleaders of Craig from a trifecta of national competition invitations. Although the squad won the competition it missed an invitation to the National Cheer Association's national competition in Dallas, Texas, by several tenths of a point at this weekend's regional in Grand Junction.

"We needed an 80 to qualify for nationals, but received a 79 point something," said Wildkat coach Dawn Rader. "We knew going in it would be tough to score high since we took some difficulties out of the routine because of the conditions."

The previous week the team, comprised of fourth through ninth graders, won the United Spirit Association competition in Highlands Ranch, CO., and qualified not only for the USA nationals but also the Jamz National Championships.

In Grand Junction the teams competed on a wood surface and Rader took out some of the handsprings for fear of injury.

"We had already qualified for the other two nationals," she said. "So I didn't want to make them get out on a surface they weren't used to (they usually practice and perform on mats) and get hurt."

Last year the 'Kats and the Kittens (kindergarten to fourth grade) finished eighth and second respectively at the Jamz Nationals in Las Vegas. The Kittens were unable to reach the 80-point barrier in the past two competitions.

"I hope that when we send in our names, they'll recognize the Kittens as the second place team last year and give us a bid," Rader said. "But we've had some sickness and we can still make it if we send in a taped local performance and the Jamz people score it as an 80 or better. I'm pretty sure we can do it once we get healthy."

The road hasn't been easy for the Wildkats either. In August they performed for NCA in Denver and according to Rader the judges "just beat us up on the score card."

After the team received some of the lowest scores in the four years of the Wildkats, Rader said they had two months to reevaluate their performance.

"We went back to the drawing board and the basics," she said. "We just worked on making things more complex and worked on stunts."

Apparently the work paid off, and now the 'Kats are going to focus on the national competition in February.

"After every major competition we basically reinvent routines," she said. "We need to speed things up and work on the weaknesses that judges commented on."

At nationals the girls will be performing in front of up to 10,000 spectators. A dream come true for some of them.

"Getting in front of 10,000 screaming people takes a lot of mental strength," Rader said. "But it is something they'll always remember."

David Pressgrove can be reached at dpressgrove@craigdailypress.com or 824-7031

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