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Daily Pilot

Virgen's View: Costa Mesa cheerleaders earn sixth place in world and sixth in nation

By Steve Virgen

11:20 PM PST, February 12, 2013

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The Costa Mesa High cheerleaders never stole any moves or routines from a squad in Compton. In that sense, their captain, Alyssa Dasca, would never be subject to the challenge: "Bring it."

However, this past weekend it was as if Dasca and the Costa Mesa cheerleaders said, "Oh, I'll bring it. Don't worry."

Excuse my point of reference. It's from the 2000 movie, "Bring It On," a cult classic and a guilty pleasure of mine.

I don't feel too guilty because, "Bring It On," can be classified as a sports film.

Is cheerleading a sport? The movie, aside from its silly scenes and funny quotes, proves that it is.

The proof can be seen in the movie's final scene, which takes place at the competition that is televised by ESPN. The competition is known as the National High School Cheerleading Championship.

The Costa Mesa cheerleaders competed at the Universal Cheerleaders Assn. event this past weekend in Orlando, Fla.

The CMHS cheerleaders brought it, or as their coach Kori Johnson likes to say, "They killed it."

They finished sixth in the nation out of 20 teams in their division and they finished sixth out of 12 in the World School Cheerleading Championships Team Competition, that included squads from Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica, Johnson said. They also had some fun at Disney World.

"After they did their performance at nationals they were overjoyed," Johnson said. "Everyone was hugging and crying and they enjoyed themselves. I'm so proud of their performance. They are too."

The girls on the team practiced religiously in the days leading up to the event. Since August, they practiced the routine for at least two hours a day, five days a week.

The work paid off. You can watch their routine on YouTube, "CMHS Cheer at Nationals!"

In addition to Johnson, Frank Molina and Maria Calbande also coach the team.

They got them ready to try to perform their routine without flaw on a big stage in front of the best and their fans.

"They condition and they run," Johnson said. "They perform at a national level. They are certainly athletes. You're lifting humans. You have to be careful. There is a lot precision and skill involved. You have to be dedicated to do it and you have to be athletic."

This NHSCC competition is no joke.

There are six pages of rules for each division that competes in the NHSCC, basically the Super Bowl of high school cheerleading competitions. Over 550 teams competed at the event.

The Costa Mesa cheerleaders competed in the Large Varsity Non Tumbling Division. The division has teams that feature 21-30 members and can have up to two males. Costa Mesa's squad consisted of 27 cheerleaders.

"The division prohibits all tumbling, except for inversions into load-in positions, stunts, and pyramids. Tumbling is defined as any skill with feet-over-head rotation," the rules state.

There are other divisions for different levels and numbers of cheerleaders on squads.

Cheer can be intense.

There are other levels than high school. College, of course, and pros. The Laker girls are celebrities.

There is also club cheerleading. Scott Bruce, who I knew in high school, has three daughters ages, 11, 9 and 7, who compete for the Orange County-based California All-Stars. He's well aware of the hard work that goes into cheerleading.

"There are not many high school athletes who would be able to complete one of their workouts," Bruce said.

Johnson knows plenty about cheerleading and coaching. She was recently named a national coach of the year by Cheerobics, which annually honors the best with its Cheer Coach of the Year Awards. Johnson was the winner of the inaugural "community" coach of the year award.

Johnson was a cheerleader at Costa Mesa High, where she lettered three years and was the team captain as a senior. She also ran track for the Mustangs.

She came back to coach the team at her alma mater eight years ago, when the program was in shambles. The program was heading toward being eliminated at the school.

Costa Mesa has now become a highly respected program among the best cheerleading teams in the nation and reached unprecedented heights in the program's history.

"It's to the point that now other teams are fearful of us and they say, 'oh my God, they are good,'" Johnson said. "It's so great to do well and hold our own with teams at the nationals. It's so great to see where we have come from to where we are now."

The CMHS cheerleaders actually improved from last year, when they finished 13th at the nationals and committed a few costly drops.

This year, there were no drops. They brought it. They want to go back and place higher next year, Johnson said.

The Costa Mesa cheerleaders are: Seniors Courtney Hatch, Alyssa Dasca, Taylor Jones, Natalie Fowler, Jordan Weir, Lexi Stroman, Megan Settles, Emily Strodel, Adriana Rodriguez and Selena Arreola; Juniors Alyssa Lopez, Laura Vaigious, Mckenzie Soldin, Jazzy Jaime, Olivia LeValley and Allie Ross; Sophomores Shannon McCormick, Rachel Keane, Karly Brumbaugh, Frankie Bertella, Alexis Dasca, Alexis Lomeli, Lea Mitani and Ellie Aguilar; Freshmen Kate Piatti, Andrea Ross and Paige La Bare.

steve.virgen@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveVirgen