A bobble here, a misstep there. Over and over, Ernest Merrell and his Dillard cheer squad yearned for the moment when everything would come together. And the opportunities were running out.
Gathering his team before Friday evening’s performance at Silver Spurs Arena, Merrell’s message was simple: “Leave your hearts on the floor.”
The Panthers found their heartbeat — and their precision, blowing away the competition to win the Class 2A Large Non-Tumbling division for their first state title in the sport.
Dillard’s score of 85.13 not only was nearly 81/2 points better than defending champion Riviera Beach Suncoast in second, but also it was the second-highest score of any finalist on the first night of the state championships.
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“They had struggled all season,” Merrell said, “but when they went out for the finals, I saw the confidence. And when they hit, it was the most unbelievable thing ever.”
Only Oviedo Hagerty scored higher (90.75) Friday night on the way to its second 2A Large Varsity crown in a row.
Merrell also suggested the Panthers might have benefited from having to come through the morning semifinals, allowing his girls to get adjusted to the venue before coming back in the finals.
“The first time, they go out there all nervous,” he said. “Then the second time, that’s when the confidence level goes up. We get what the judges say, we go back and we tweak to do what we have to.”
Stranahan nearly gave Broward County a sweep of the Large Non-Tumbling division, but a fallout during an early lift might have been the only thing that prevented the Dragons from taking the Class 1A crown.
St. Augustine Menendez won the title with 72.00 points, with Stranahan second at 70.00. Falling out of a lift early brings a deduction of anywhere from 11/2 to 21/2 points, depending on the severity.
“I’m proud of them,” coach Sylvia Adams-Johnson said.
The Dragons were seeking back-to-back championships after winning the Class 2A Large Non-Tumbling title a year ago.
Instead, they collected their third runner-up finish since the FHSAA began sanctioning the sport in 2008.
St. Brendan, considered a favorite to win its first Class 1A Extra Large Varsity crown, wound up a disappointing third after a bobble-filled performance. Western High also went home with third place in the Class 2A Extra Large.
St. Brendan had finished runner-up in each of the past two years and scored highest of all the regional champions but early slippage on a lift seemed to set off a chain reaction as the Sabres lost their rhythm.