Veteran Stampede Cheer coaches, Abby Gottlieb and Annamarie McDaniel, and first year coach Jenna Zellmer knew they had a special team at the beginning of the Oakdale Stampede season but they soon discovered their girls were not only talented, but champions.
For the first time in the Stampede organization’s history, the varsity squad and hand-picked members of the junior varsity squad formed a competition team following the end of the regular football season and the results were nothing short of phenomenal.
“During the regular season we saw they had a lot of talent,” Gottlieb said. “But these girls far exceeded what we were expecting.”
All three Varsity head coaches had previous cheer experience aside from coaching and they knew how far they could push the girls, but each time they introduced something new, whether a complicated dance routine or a tricky stunt, the girls excelled, pushing the bar that much higher for the youth football and cheer organization.
“What’s amazing is that for half of the girls, this was their first year cheering. There were only three girls who’d ever competed,” McDaniel said. “They just had natural talent.”
That natural talent would blow away the judges at the regional competition in San Francisco in early December when the girls performed against two other veteran comp teams and won first place.
“After the routine was over, the girls were crying and hugging; it was amazing,” Gottlieb shared of their first regional competition.
McDaniel agreed, saying, “It’s really scary to throw yourselves out there, especially when you’ve never done it before but the girls did an amazing job.”
A competition cheer routine is not only longer — the regular season dance routines are 50 seconds; a competition routine is two-and-a-half minutes — but they’re filled with tricky stunts and tumbling passes geared to win points for impressing the judges.
The girls, ranging in age from 11 to 15 years old, gave up their free time to spend conditioning to increase their endurance and stamina, as well as practicing their stunts and tumbling for hours at a stretch so that when they took the stage at the Cow Palace, they could compete at the same level as their competitors.
“Oh, yes, we checked out our competition before regionals,” Gottlieb said. “We wanted to see what we were up against.”
McDaniel shared a look with her fellow coach and grinned, joking, “We scoped out the other team and stalked them on Youtube and Facebook.”
And when the girls arrived at the Cow Palace, they were a bit awestruck, McDaniel admitted.
“Yes, there were a lot of nerves back stage,” Gottlieb added.
But when the girls took the stage — eyes forward and smiles bright — there was no sign of those nerves as they tumbled and danced their way right to first place.
Bringing that first trophy home was surreal but nothing compared to what happened next.
In order to compete at the Jamz Youth National competition in Las Vegas in January, a team had to earn a 70 percent or better at the regional competition. Since the Stampede comp team blew away the competition at regionals, they were given an automatic entry into the national competition.
This time there were six teams, most of which came from southern California with a lot of competition cheer experience. Once again, the Stampede squad was the underdog competing against former champs in the field.
And once again, the Stampede girls took home the glory. One of the more complicated tumbling passes, front-walk-over-round-off-back-hand-spring-front-walk-over-round-off-tuck, performed by Kayla Budine, was a definite show-stopper but the entire routine was filled with explosive energy and complicated dance choreography.
“We spent hours perfecting the routines and stunts,” Gottlieb said. “The girls did a lot of push-ups.”
When asked how it felt to see their girls take home first place, both Gottlieb and McDaniel were nearly speechless but the pride in their eyes was evident.
“I don’t even know what to say except that it was amazing,” Gottlieb said. “The other teams were veteran comp teams. We were so proud.”
Perhaps one of the many reasons the Stampede squad performed so well is that from the beginning of the regular season, the coaches worked hard to instill a sense of camaraderie within the squad. No squabbling or clique behavior was allowed.
“We spent a lot of time team-building,” Gottlieb said. “We wanted it to be about more than just cheer.”
McDaniel added, “We worked really hard not favoring one girl over another. We mixed up the talent and made everyone work as a team.”
That attention to the team’s cohesion made for a winning combination as the close-knit team performed like a well-oiled machine.
Suddenly the Oakdale Stampede Cheer squad was a force to be reckoned with — a name among top performers. The girls and their coaches had effectively raised the bar for future Stampede cheerleaders.
“Hearing people compliment our girls is like getting the compliment yourself because we’re doing a good job coaching,” Gottlieb said.
McDaniel agreed, saying, “The reason why we do this is for the girls. We love seeing them succeed and seeing their excitement.”
The coaches’ parents have expressed their pride in their young coach daughters as the young women have definitely made their mark on the organization as well as their cheerleaders’ lives.
“My parents are very proud of me,” McDaniel said. “I’ve been talking about coaching since I was a little girl.”
Gottlieb’s parents were effusive in their pride by posting enthusiastically on Facebook.
“Yeah, my parents are really proud,” Gottlieb said, blushing just a little.
Now the girls are reigning National champions and the work begins anew for the next year.
“We’re already looking at the upcoming junior varsity to see what kind of talent we’ll be working with,” Gottlieb admitted as they will be losing all but seven of their squad as they transition out to the next level. “Now we have to defend the title. We’ll be ‘Returning National Champs.’”
Inclusion on the comp team requires hard work, dedication and a fearless attitude — not to mention talent — after all, champs aren’t born, they’re made.
Stampede Cheer is on the scene and they like the view at the top, which means they’re excited about the prospect of doing it all again.
For the up-and-coming cheerleaders, ready to show their spirit, Gottlieb and McDaniel shared some advice.
“Make yourself committed to the team and show the love you have for cheer,” McDaniel said. “Believe in yourself; it’ll show through your cheers.”
“Remember that cheering is not just about what you can do for yourself but what you can do for the team. Every girl is an important piece of the puzzle. Only together can the team prosper,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb had one last shout-out to add, saying, “We want to give an extra special thank you to Tina Gottlieb, Deanna Medrano, Katey Choate, and Mike and Tera DeGuzman for all of their help in making this experience as incredible as it has been!”
Sign ups for the new Stampede Football and Cheer season will be announced soon. For more information, go to the Oakdale Stampede website at www.oakdalestampede.com.