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      Champions of Cheer

      You can hear their passion emanating through the halls, endlessly perfecting the same routine. Thirteen girls becoming one cohesive unit; moving every muscle, from foot to face, in unison.

      "People think it's sillly with the bows and the shoes, but everything has to look the same because you're being judged on how the team moves as a unit," said Nicole Lasak, the team's assistant coach and former cheerleader.

      Competitive Cheerleading is often chalked up as nothing more than smiling faces amping up the crowd from the sidelines. But it takes tenacity to run a mile in these girls' shoes, something they do every day.

      "They run a mile everyday. They do abs, legs, arms, everything. We lift weights sometimes and we do a lot of conditioning," explained Cathy Mutter, the team's Head Coach for the past 21 years.

      The squad has been striving for greatness since November, five days a week, for two-and-a-half hours, with one goal in mind: perfection.

      "You just end up fine tuning it. We'll change parts because it didn't score well that week. You look at it, and you change it," Mutter added.

      At competition, judges rule on everything from vocals to team coordination and execution. The slightest misstep can be catastrophic for their score.

      "We lost at districts last year by .02 points and we really, really wanted to go to regionals and eventually state. So we were all very, very angry and I think that gave us the extra push to keep going and complete our goal this year," noted Morgan Sontag, a senior starter on the squad.

      Three rounds comprised of jumps, tucks, back claps, high kicks and side splits separate the bottom of the barrel from the top of the pack, with every facial expression taken into consideration. And no matter what the result, they have to grin and bear it.

      "We all cheer each other on, but really we're just like 'I want to win' in the back of our heads. But you have to be nice to their face, which we always do," Sontag said laughingly.

      Munising's coaching staff has over 30 years of experience to offer, and this year's squad is heeding their advice at every turn. They have the track record to prove it, winning regionals for the first time in school history en route to their second trip to the championship mat.

      As hard as it is to smile through the pain, holding airtight posture for minutes at a time while meticulously moving as one, they still take time to show their love and affection for one another.

      "I'm so close with my team. They are my second family. They are all my sisters. I'd trust them with my life. I don't know, you have to have a lot of trust in cheerleading and passion to go after what you want," Sontag reminisced.

      So no matter what happens in Grand Rapids this weekend, they can still be loud and proud of everything they've accomplished this season.