One for the pinkie: Taos Tigers win again

It's "Quadzilla" for the Taos Tigers as they looked unstoppable at the state spirit championships in Albuquerque March 24-25.

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Even in the midst of a dynastic run, in the moments before the announcement of the winners came, the anticipation seemed to cause strain on the fingers, hands, wrists and forearms of the Taos Tigers cheer team inside WisePies Arena, aka the “Pit,” March 25. Joined together with clutched hands, bowed heads and sealed eyelids, the unbroken chain of teammates clad in orange and white murmured indistinct whispers as the Hope Christian Huskies were named the third-place winner of the state cheer championship.

Taos had been here before, even multiple times. But the moment of truth was about to be revealed as to whether or not a fourth state title was in the stars for the Tigers. Upper lips were pursed and a hush fell over the team as the public announcer declared, “Second place goes to...the Portales Rams!”

A small celebration ensued. Taos was in the lead going into the second day, and Portales was the closest threat to derailing the chances of a fourth consecutive blue trophy for the Tigers in Class 4A cheer. Quickly, though, team captains and upperclassmen quelled the foot stomping so as not to jump to any premature conclusions that might jinx a dream come true. Then, ending the torment, the Taos Tigers were set free from their seats as they exploded in a starburst pattern when the announcement was definitive: The Class 4A state championship goes to the Taos Tigers.

The cumulative score for the Tigers over the course of two days and two routines was a whopping 177.38 points. Taos was second only to the 6A Mayfield Trojans, who finished with 177.67 points in their respective class. The Tigers were in the lead after their initial performance March 24 when they accrued 92.60 points – trailed by the Rams (88.27), Pojoaque Valley Elkettes (75.93), Hope Christian (75.43), Ruidoso Warriors (73.33) and Robertson Cardinals (69.70).

“On day one, we knew we had a target on our backs,” said coach Lisa Abeyta-Valerio, who remarked that the motto the team adopted for the year was, “Work four it!” – a play on words that was meant to remind the team that the goal of four straight titles had to be earned every day leading up to five minutes on the Pit floor. “But the girls always amaze me, and they hit on all cylinders Friday morning.”

Day two on Saturday (March 25) saw the Tigers execute their routine flawlessly, impressing the judges with solid stunts and a stunning pyramid that ignited the Tiger fans in attendance. “Once we completed that final pyramid, I knew that was it,” said Abeyta-Valerio, whose exuberance was on full display on the Taos sideline. “I was so excited for my team, and I knew there was no stopping us at that point.”

The 84.78 points earned by Taos was the most of any cheer squad from any class on the second day, leaving no doubt that the Tigers’ reign would continue for another year.

“It has been a quite a whirlwind,” said Abeyta-Valerio, who vowed to take a couple of weeks off before thinking about cheer again. “It’s really satisfying, though, knowing a few of the girls can also say they are four-time state champs.” Abeyta-Valerio was referring to her seniors, Daniella Abeyta, Marissa Brown, Marissa Gallegos and Gabriela Winter, who have been with the program since eighth grade, but did not win a state title until their freshman year. Juniors with the same distinction include Ashley Chavez, Anjelica Fresquez and Heaven Valdez.

Abeyta-Valerio said a successful dynasty like the Taos cheer squad involves a few ingredients. “We establish the work ethics very early [in the year]. The young athletes that come to us also learn quickly that they must be willing to work hard – day in and day out,” said Abeyta-Valerio. “Plus, you need a strong support team to help you push past the challenges that come up throughout the year.”

“Those that have been there for us include [Taos Athletic Director] Nickie McCarty, Victor Cardenas, High Altitude Athletics, the very supportive parents of our girls and the community of Taos,” said Abeyta-Valerio, who acknowledged the list of thank you’s was a long one.

“Of course, I would not be able to dedicate so much time and energy into this program without the support of my husband and family,” said Abeyta-Valerio, who recounted a few team challenges encountered on the way to this current achievement.

“But, when they call your name, it makes it all worth it.”

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