ROTTERDAM — For two and a half minutes the girls on the Mohonasen High School competitive cheerleading team flipped and tumbled and held each other high.
A state-meet berth was on the line, and as the Mighty Warriors' veteran coach Jessica Couball said, "They had one shot, and they nailed it."
Mohonasen was among five teams that recently won Section II competitive cheerleading championships and will see action Saturday at Rochester Institute of Technology in the New York finals that begin at 9 a.m.
"It was maybe the best performance we did," Mohonasen senior Giana Deitz said of her team's effort at the Section II meet at Saratoga. "We put on a show. It was go big or go home."
Mohonasen's 15-member Division 2 small-school squad went 6-0 in invitational events leading up to the Section II meet, where it produced 87.2 points to outscore every contingent in every division there.
"It was always in the back of our mind, to win there, but it's not an end point," Couball said. "We want to make round two at the states. We want to be in the top five."
"We're all ready," Mohonasen sophomore Tristin Bennett said. "We really, really want it."
In Rochester, Mohonasen will be among 14 teams in the Division 2 small-school division. Each will perform their routine, and the five teams that score best will perform their routine again to determine a state champion.
"There's never a point where you're not doing something, and you have to focus on the thing you're doing," Bennett said. "The judges are watching every move."
Mohonasen placed fifth at the inaugural state meet in 2016, and just missed making the second round in 2017. That 2016 team included Lexi Paddon, whose sister, Alora, is among five seniors on this season's Mighty Warriors edition.
"I talked to her because I'm kind of nervous, and she's been there," Alora Paddon said. "Her advice was, 'If you take it as a normal competition, there will be less nerves.'"
"We don't want to let it get in our heads," Bennett said. "We'll think of it as a regular competition."
Mohonasen tried to maintain that mind-set at the Section II meet this past Saturday, where teams there went through only one routine in an effort to qualify for the state meet.
"They were completely turned on," Couball said. "It was an incredible performance."
It wasn't the first time this winter season that Mohonasen was the best of the best. While winning its division at those six previous invitationals, Mohonasen four times recorded the highest score in all of the divisions, as well.
"They put so much work into it. Day in and day out," said Couball, who was a cheerleader while attending Mohonasen and has been the team's head coach for four years. "Because the sport is still new there's not a lot of recognition, but they don't let that bother them. Once they come together on the mat it's 100 percent as a team."
Mohonasen placed third in its division at the 2019 Section II championship meet.
"Last year was a rebuilding year," Couball said. "They all came in this year with the same goals."
Competitive cheerleading — which includes human pyramids, lifts, flips and tumbling — was approved as an interscholastic sport by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association prior to the 2014-15 school year. Regional competitions were held at the end of that season as a prelude to the first full-fledged state meet in 2016.
"Some people don't understand it," said Bennett, who is in her third season with the team. "They don't see it as a sport, but it is. We put in so many hours. There's a lot of sweat and tears. It's not easy. It's not."
Ballston Spa (Division 1 large), Shaker (Division 1 small), Averill Park (Division 2 large) and Saratoga (co-ed) will also be sending teams to the state meet. At the 2019 state meet, Shenendehowa (Division 1 large) and Shaker (Division 1 small) both reached the second round and placed fifth.