By Elizabeth Keane, staff writer 

A first-time competitor Kayomi Hirano stood nervously with the rest of her team, ready to take the mat. Only 12 years old, Hirano didn’t know what to expect. Her nerves may have gotten the better of her as she over-rotated her tumbling pass and failed to stick a stunt, but Hirano was happy to take and learn from her not-so-perfect first competing experience.

Now a senior, Hirano has been a cheerleader since sixth grade, beginning her passion at the Mount Prospect Cheer Club. She started on varsity at Prospect her freshman year, and has formed close relationships with many girls on the team.

“Compared to previous seasons this year is different because we’re the same team as last year.” Hirano said. “And because there’s no new people I feel like we all have the same determination and goals to work harder as a whole.”

Special-education teacher Jackie Gronski is the head cheer coach at Prospect with assistant coach Lauren Collins by her side. As a child, she participated in elementary and middle school cheer, but nearly panicked when award-winning cheer coach Jeff Siegel asked Gronski to coach JV cheer with him at Buffalo Grove High School. After this, Gronski knew she was meant for cheer and took the opportunity when Prospect needed a new coach six years ago.

The 17 varsity girls have placed in the top five at every competition this year with their just under three-minute routine.

“Our biggest challenge as a team is our athletes finding the confidence they need to have on the mat.” Gronski said. “They have a very tough routine with lots of skills that requires tons of stamina, so they just need to find the energy to perform it to its entirety.”

Gronski is proud of the fact that the team is able to execute and hit certain parts of the routine really well, but like any coach, always looks for more out of her girls. She would like to not receive as many deductions for minor issues.

“There’s an expectation of us doing well,” Gronski said. “We took tenth at state last year even after always being the underdogs, so we’ve walked into competitions where people know who we are, which I feel puts more pressure on the girls to live up to it.”

Hirano feels that their biggest downfall as a team was when they couldn’t reclaim their title back from two years ago at the MSL competition. Although they still placed third out of twelve, the performance was not as perfect as it could have been according to her.

“The downfalls are what makes cheer what it is.” Hirano said. “Cheer is such a mental sport; you’re flipping, being thrown in the air, dancing…it’s just so different from every other sport and that’s why I love it.”