Craig Months and months of practice came to a conclusion March 29 for the Moffat County Thunder cheer team at nationals in Las Vegas.
In an event featuring more than 300 teams, the Thunder placed third in its division.
"This is absolutely our best finish ever," coach Jannie Brenner said. "We earned this. Only the best of the best in the United States were there."
When the final scores were announced in front of the more than 9,000 fans in attendance at the Orleans Arena, Brenner was shocked.
"I was surprised we placed that high," she said. "We are a small team from a small town that competed against big city teams. I couldn't be more proud of the girls. I balled my eyes out. I felt like I was on the Price is Right when I went up in front of all those people to accept the trophy."
Another reason Brenner said she was surprised was because the team made two small errors during its 2 minute, 30 second routine.
Still, the team managed to impress the judges with the routine's degree of difficulty.
"That is what clinched third place for us," she said. "Even though we did drop those two stunts, our difficulty was every bit as tough as the team that won first place. We had huge difficulty points."
Brenner said the group of all-star cheerleaders ages 6 to 18 from Craig has it much different than other local sports teams.
"It's sudden death. You get two and a half minutes and that's it," Brenner said. "There's no quarters, no time-outs, it's just go, go, go."
Some team members were nervous, and Brenner said, for good reason.
"A few of the girls hadn't been to nationals before," she said. "The energy in the room is just ecstatic. It's incredible. All you hear is screaming fans. The girls looked at me and were so surprised to be at that stage."
Twelve-year-old Tori Cook was one of the Thunder's first-timers, but she wouldn't say she had a case of the butterflies.
"I wasn't really nervous," Cook said. "I'm proud of getting third place. You have to just think it's fun. If you just chill and stuff, you don't get nervous."
Tawni Brenner made her third trip to nationals as part of the Thunder.
The 15-year old (she was very particular about mentioning she turns 16 next week) said she was one of the team members that made a mistake, but as one of the senior team members, she took it in stride.
"All of the seats were full," she said. "And I even messed up. I got down and fell over, and I just popped up and said 'I was supposed to do that.'"
Clara Tomlin competed in January's Orange Bowl festivities in Miami and made her third trip to Vegas with the Thunder.
"I'm proud that we got third," Tomlin said. "We worked really hard to get where we are. We were really close to qualifying for worlds. We'll get it next year."
The top teams from each division in Vegas qualified for the world championships later this year.
Although the competitive season is over for the team, Brenner said the four months until competition resumes is when the team gets most of its work done.
A new routine is set, music has to be composed and new team members have to be meshed in with the current team.
But, that doesn't mean she's not going to take the time to soak up the team's success this season.
"We had a great year," she said. "I learned that we can do it. It can be done by a small town. The size of the town doesn't matter. It's the heart of the kids that matters."
John Vandelinder can be reached at 875-1793, or firstname.lastname@example.org