Sam Bagwell, for the Fernley Reporter
In front of a roaring capacity crowd of 9,600 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, the Fernley High School varsity cheerleaders represented Fernley at the JAMZ Nationals this weekend. Nationals is the culminating event for many high school cheer teams across the United States, requiring qualifying according to a strict scoring sheet, where the best of the best go to represent their programs.
“Our season is unlike any other sport. We work the entire year for this one competition. A full year of work comes down to just two, two-minute and 30 second performances,” said Erika Rasche, now in her fourth year as the Vaquero cheerleaders head coach, who had nothing but praise for their performance. She emphasized the hard work that her athletes put into their craft.
After two days of competition, the Vaquero cheerleaders placed sixth, with a score of 87.77%, out of a possible 100. Last year, the Vaquero squad placed third at Nationals, but Rasche said this year the team competed in one of the hardest and largest divisions with eight teams. “Even though we placed lower this year, the competition was much more difficult and more competitive.”
In fact, this year’s JAMZ High School Nationals was the largest in the history of the event.
“Our skill level from last year has increased significantly, and I expect the same for next year,” Rasche said. “Every year we get better and gain more knowledge for what it takes to win.”
While they may have come up short on their goal of taking first place at Nationals this year, all of these athletes seem to agree that even though Nationals is the culmination of all of their hard work, representing the Fernley community is a driving passion, as well as capturing a dream of competing at Nationals.
“These athletes blow me away every day, and I am incredibly proud of every single one of them,” Rasche said. “While managing their intense sports schedule, they have also demonstrated academic successes, held jobs, played a second sport, and volunteered within the community. They spent countless hours fundraising for their season costs and the expenses of attending Nationals. They worked so hard on and off the mat to make it to Nationals, and I couldn’t be more proud and honored to coach such hardworking, incredible people.”
After the first day of competition, Rasche said the judges told her they wanted the team to push their already tough routine, by adding in more difficult skills.
“Day 1 we felt really good about what we put out on the floor,” she said. “We had a couple mistakes, one stunt fall and one stunt bobble, but we were very happy and proud of our Day 1 routine.”
On Day 2, Rashe said the Vaqueros added additional skills and elevated the difficulty in their pyramid and stunt skills.
“We had a few more mistakes, which was expected with those last minute changes, but they still hit more difficult skills than they did the day before,” she said.”They challenged and pushed themselves all the way through the end, and we are very proud of what they did both days.”
For Rasche, it hasn’t been the easiest of circumstances through her four years at the helm. She became head coach at the age of 21, though her first year was cut short by the adversity that came with the COVID-19 protocols, and the following year, in 2020 the protocols being even more difficult. She’s now had two full years coaching without having to deal with the COVID-19 roadblocks.
“Coaching this program means so much to me,” Rasche said. “These athletes are my motivation for everything. I always want to make sure I do right by them and hope to make them as proud of me as I am of them.”
Rasche said she loves the team like family and would do anything for any one of them.
“This team makes 5 a.m. practices and long days easy, and worth it,” she said. “They give me their all every day, and they deserve the same from me. I’m so grateful I have the opportunity to coach them.”
Most of us only see the cheerleaders during a football game half-time, or stomping along and chanting with them during games. What we don’t see are the summer conditioning camps, daily 5 a.m. practices, Saturday practices.
”When you see them in the community, remember that these are the youth that represent our town at a multitude of events and they strive to show the very best of what our town is all about. They are athletes, they are the very best hype squad, filled with positivity, doing their best to be role models, and always cheering for the home team no matter the score,” Rasche said.
Tyler Miller, a junior team captain, has cheered for almost 10 years. She said her role as a captain and a flyer is to be a leader and support everyone on the team, no matter what.
“To be a leader means to be a role model and always do what I think is right in representing myself and my team, along with my school,” Miler said. “I feel as a captain and flyer, being a good role model even for older girls is super important and also to always show that mistakes are okay to make and everything is a learning experience.”
Allison Borden, also a junior and a captain, describes cheering as a dream of her own. She said as a captain, she’s learned to expand her leadership skills and what it means to be a good leader.
“It feels good when others look up to me and trust me,” she said “Cheer has really changed my life and I don’t know what I would be doing without it. It has brought me to a group of amazing girls who have really made me a better version of myself. Without them, I wouldn’t be me.”
Audrina Soliman, a freshman flyer on the varsity team, has been cheering for the Vaqueros since first grade. Cheering has been her dream since the high school cheerleaders came to her school when she was five years old.
“This is a really big thing and I am so honored to be a part of it with being a freshman on Varsity, but my favorite part is becoming friends with my team and getting to feel like they are my own family that I can trust,” Soliman said. “It feels so surreal being on the varsity team my freshman year, especially since this has been my dream since I was 5 years old, cheering with the cheerleaders at their homecoming game. It’s amazing and I consider my team my family.”
Soliman’s goal is to cheer through high school and get a scholarship to become a Nevada Wolf Pack cheerleader.”
Anna Barrus, a senior, was appreciative of her small town and the unwavering support she felt from the community, while also reminding us that, well .. We’re damn tough here in Fernley.
“Representing Fernley High School means showing we are not just a small town outside of Reno, Barrus said. “We are tough and we have been through a lot as a team. We have worked through injuries and showed perseverance.This program is so much more than poms and happy faces. There is actual blood, sweat, and tears that go into this team and our performance at Nationals.”
Junior Maycie Hill has been cheering since she was three, and said cheering is where she can let her emotions out.
“To have a chance to represent a little town nobody knows is so much more than just representing,” Hill said. “I love this team more than anything and just to be able to see my team’s face in the morning, with their morning breath, means so much to me and is truly my favorite part.”
Zoe Rae Raible, the only senior captain on this year’s team, is a back spot, whose role is to watch the flyer and make sure she and the bases are safe at all times.
“In a way, I’m a ‘lifeguard,’ Raible said. “Cheering in high school has given me a sense of belonging and a safe place. This team has been my home for 3 years now and they’ve been a rock through some of my hardest battles. I graduate in June and can’t imagine leaving such a positive place, so much so it hurts, but I’m closing my cheerleading chapter and looking forward to going to school to become a teacher, be a coach, and have a chance at making an impact on someone else’s life.”
Vianca Frias, a senior who has been a part of the team all four years of high school said representing Fernley High School has been an amazing experience.
“I have learned so much not only from my coaches, but from my teammates too, she said. “Nationals really gave us a chance to prove that we are more than a cheer team from a small town. We proved that we are stronger and we couldn’t do it without each other and no matter what we go through we always come out on the other end. Even though this is my final season, I am so proud of my team and I can’t wait to watch them grow with the help of our amazing coaches.”
The season isn’t over for the Vaqueros cheer team, with the basketball teams both headed toward the postseason.
“We’re excited to still have opportunities to cheer for our incredible basketball teams, and hopefully cheer them on all the way to a state championship this year!,” Rasche said.
She also wants others to know that if you think you’ve got what it takes to be a part of the team, she encourages you to attend tryout clinics in the spring, noting that you don’t need experience. She welcomes everyone and is looking for coachable athletes.
Rasche said the community support the team receives has been amazing.
“Between local restaurants hosting our team after long practices, local businesses and community members supporting our events and fundraisers, organizations donating towards our expenses, and the fans, we have felt the love across the town, and we are so grateful for everyone that continues to support us,” she said. “Without the support from our town, we wouldn’t have been able to go to Nationals. We are always so grateful for our supporters and proud to represent our town.”
If you would like to know more or show your support for the varsity cheerleaders, you can attend their events or sponsor a fundraiser. You can also follow their social media pages to keep up to date with everything they do, on Facebook at Fernley High School Cheer, and on Instagram, under the username fernleyhighcheer.
Frias closes summarized the team’s experience in the Nationals competition with the motto of the Vaquero cheerleaders: “Together We Go Higher.”