GAINESVILLE – Now it’s a dynasty.
Bartow cheerleading took the stage last at the FHSAA state finals and simply proved they are the headline act and best team in the state once again.
The Jackets captured their fourth-consecutive Class 2A large coed division state championship on Saturday on the Exactech Arena stage at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, rolling up 85.30 points, easily besting second place Fleming Island (78.50).
“I always love going on last. I believe in closing the show,” Bartow head coach Lori Joliff said after the win. “There is no secret. These kids are dedicated and they work hard. Anything you want to be successful at, you have to put the work in. It will not be handed to you. Everyone sacrifices for this moment.”
Bartow lost half of its roster to graduation after winning their third-straight state title and national championship a year, but with new faces in the lineup, the Jackets proved to be just as good.
“Back (stage) in holding, I got a little teary-eyed (before the performance) because maybe I was expecting too much this year. They’re a young team and they are new to this mat. It’s a huge stage, and did I ask too much of them? But they came out and did exactly what we asked them to do and so much more. They got the crowd on their feet and just showed why they love Bartow cheer so much,” Joliff said.
First-year junior cheerleader Zach Martin said he is glad to be part of the best program in the state.
“This has been a crazy ride but it won’t stop because we have nationals coming up. I have so many friends here and I am so glad they talked me into doing this. I love this program,” Martin said.
Bartow opened with a cutting-edge, low-to-high catch-and-release move and then won the crowd over with their signature hand-to-hand upside down formation.
“It is usually an elite skill but we open up with it right off the bat,” Joliff said. “Our hand-to-hand is our signature move but my favorite is at the end, when they fan out and everyone thinks it is done, and all of a sudden you see this wonderful basket toss at the end.
“We always want to set the standard. Yesterday, our town threw us a send-off parade. It is Bartow, the home of champions.”
Senior Briana Clark has been on all four state championship teams and said the fourth title was just as special as the first – and maybe even better.
“It is a different team and a different year but you still have to do your job. Me, being my last year, it just makes it more exciting finishing it off this way,” Clark said.
Bartow won the Class 2A large varsity coed division state title in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The team also won the state title in 2008 in the non-tumbling division – which was the first year the FHSAA began sanctioning the sport. And Bartow has won the UCA national championship in 2012 and 2016.
Lake Wales finished third in the medium non-tumbling division with 59.30 points. West Nassau won the competition with a 74.10.
“We have 11 seniors on this team and I think that is why we were here,” Lake Wales coach Shay Hixenbaugh said. “When they were freshmen we were state runners-up. Today they looked so relaxed and performed so well.”
Lakeland Christian did not reach the finals but finished fourth in the semifinal bracket of the medium varsity division, won by Tampa Catholic. The Vikings scored 66.85 points.