Hornets cheer win first national champions in program history

Published 3:07 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Saturday, Feb. 18 was a dream come true for the Poplarville Cheer team. With expectations just to do their best, the Hornets left ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at The Walt Disney World, as National Champions for the first time in school history. They are crowned as the 2023 UCA National High School Cheering Champions for their 95.9 first-place Small Varsity Non-Tumbling Game Day Division II performance.

Fresh off the plane from Orlando FL, first-year head coach Brittany Smith Rogers, Senior Captain Sammi Vaughan, and juniors Madison Lee and Abigail Branton shared their dream-making achievement.

Each of the three cheerleaders said the feeling has been overwhelming, unreal, and emotional, and has yet to really sink in. Just like every team during the opening season, the Lady Hornets dreamt about winning and wearing the gold medals and lifting the champion banner up high. Little did they know their dreams turned into manifestations.

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“We talked about it all the time, and then when it happened it was like, WHAT?” said Lee. Definitely a surreal moment,” added Rogers.

Reaching Nationals was a goal set at the beginning of the year for Poplarville. It was said, but they never expected it to happen the following year.

Rogers is a Poplarville high school alum, and when she accepted the coach position in 2022 she said, ‘I felt like god brought me back here for a reason.” Rogers didn’t expect to win this year even though it was a goal she’d written down. Lee said she felt this year would be a re-building phase since this was their first time competing in the in-game day cheer category. But, “I’ve never seen girls more dedicated,” Rogers said.

The Poplarville Cheer team had a chip on their shoulder and felt they had to prove something to erase last season. After competing in Regionals, Poplarville got a taste of winning and that was when their sights on Nationals looked more real than just a dream. But they stayed humble and remained driven to get better.

“Step by step,” Lee said. “We weren’t even set on winning, we wanted top 5 at least.”

“Our goal was to get experience under our belt and see what it’s all about,” said Branton.

Senior Captain Sammi Vaughan said every day of National was competing for the perfect routine. There were three groups of preliminaries for the Small Varsity Non-Tumbling Game Day competition. Poplarville competed against 16 others in their group and first-place preliminary winners received automatic bids to finals. On day one, Poplarville scored second place. On day two, Poplarville place first in their group with a three-point separation. Rogers said, everything sunk in, including the realization that they could win it all.

Here’s where the cheer team’s dedication and drive came into play. After performing well and making it to finals Rogers offered the team to take a break and explore Disney World’s parks. The team said no, instead they practiced. No matter if it was inside or outside the hotel room, Branton said they were all practicing night and day and never went to one park while in Orlando. On the final day before judges announced the place winner, Lee said they entered the mat thinking they took second place based on their last performance.

“It really was a heartfelt moment to actually win,” said Lee. The others said it was disbelief.

“It’s a dream come true. I don’t think none of us expected for us to go win a National Championship in our very first year going to Nationals,” said Branton.

With tears, they all said they don’t want this season to end. There was nothing like this year’s group, they’ve become more than just teammates and coaches.

“We’re all like sisters,” said Vaughan.

They’ve created a family and Roger said moving forward it will never be the same. That was her goal coming in as head coach, “Be one… one group.” Branton who is a multi-sport athlete said every team has its clique, but this bigger clique with the cheer team was special.

“They couldn’t have done what they did without the relationships they have with each other,” said Rogers.

This was Vaughan’s last competition in a Hornets uniform. What she’ll miss most, she said will be everything. Cheer has always been a huge part of her life since 5th grade, now having to leave it will be hard but she wouldn’t have it any other way or with any other pair of teammates.

“I don’t think I ever want to get rid of this feeling… it’s a feeling like no other to know you’re on a team that has your back and you accomplished your dream, it’s surreal and I don’t want to leave.”

Moving past Nationals, the three were asked,  does this achievement set a standard for the future of the program?

“For sure.” “Absolutely.” A really Big one,” they said.

Branton added, that there’s a huge drive and fire under the program now. Rogers tagged this program to be one of the ones that people want to be a part of, be around, and support.

“We really came into this season focusing on our reputation, let’s make sure people see, and when they look at us, they see that they are sweet, kind, Christians…and be a program people admire.”

Now when people see the Poplarville Cheer team it will be hard not to add National Champions to that list.