NATIONAL CHAMPIONS: Hard work, dedication pays off for small town girls

Teddy Paynter

PIKEVILLE — There were plenty of smiles when Pikeville High School’s (PHS) varsity cheerleaders returned home earlier this week after competing on the national stage in Orlando, Fla.


The girls captured a second straight national championship and fourth in school history.


“Our theme this year was to believe in ourselves,” second-year head coach Kandice Branham said. “We wanted to stay focused on our routine and not worry about what the other teams were doing.”


Competing in the national spotlight has become routine for PHS. The squad also won national titles in 2001 and 2002.


The future is bright for the squad, which loses only seniors Christen Ousley and Catie Rowe.


“It’s just an unbelievable feeling to go out as a national champion,” Ousley said. “It doesn’t seem real…it’s just the greatest thing.”


Rowe said to go out her senior year with another title was a dream come true.


“To know that I’m a two-time national champion is really special for me,” Rowe said.


Coach Branham said her team handled the pressure well, especially after having the lead following their opening floor exercise.


“I thought our girls really were focused,” she said. “We went in as the favorite and did everything we had to do to win.”


Pikeville’s journey to Orlando began last July when the group attended UCA camp at the University of Kentucky.


Branham said her team’s practice schedule can run anywhere from five to six days a week, and even Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks sharpening their skills for the nationals.


“Once we get closer to nationals we try and compete or perform somewhere every weekend in January.


Branham said having a strong support staff of coaches and trainers is an added bonus for the program.


“Any time we learn a new stunt we have one group go and the rest of the team will stand around closely spotting ready to catch the top girl if needed,” she said.


Branham said the highlight of this year’s winning routine was the tumbling and end pyramid.


The final two squads were both from Kentucky. Branham said waiting to hear the runner-up school announced was heart-wrenching.


“To put on the white jacket for the first time was a wonderful feeling, but it was such a relief to know that everything we had worked on for so long paid off,” she concluded.


Can the team three-peat?


Tryouts will begin for the 2016-17 team in April.