SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Unlike most team sports, in competitive cheer your only true opposition is perfection.
“Different from baseball, soccer or football there really isn’t an opponent besides yourself. So, the kids just have to hit their stunts, hit their tumbling and then the judges, they judge the rest,” Coach of the Dakota Spirit Apollos Joanna Naajies said.
The competition aspect is unique and so is the makeup of the Dakota Spirit Apollo’s, which features 17 athletes ranging from 12 years old to seniors in high school.
“We see these seventh graders just bond so closely with these seniors in high school and it’s really, really cool because they have that big sister for life,” Naajies remarked.
After winning an event in Wisconsin Dells, the Apollos would earn a bid into the most prestigious competition in the country within their division known as the Summit held in Orlando, Florida.
“It was day one of Summit and we got set and I remember we were about to go on and my flyer was like I’m not nervous and I was like I’m not nervous either and I just remember going out there and I felt so calm,” Apollo athlete Kaylee Cotton stated.
They would advance to day two but during their championship performance…
“Everything was unfolding really, really nicely, we were through the meat and potatoes of our routine and one of our athletes went down,” told Naajies.
“And she ended up hurting something in her foot and we had to go off the mat and rework some stuff in the routine and we got someone to fill in from our team to help us,” Marissa Haensel remembered.
And through the unexpected addition of Izzy Hosek, who cheered for a different Dakota Spirit team, the Apollos would finish the performance and ended up being named the 2022 Level 5 Summit champions.
“I was like freaking out because they called second place and they didn’t call our name and I was like…What ?! We were just going crazy,” Haensel said.
“The unique way that we won, it was a Dakota Spirit effort by all of our coaches and all of our athletes,” Naajies said.
Each girl was given their own Summit banner and they will also each get their own championship rings in the near future.