St. Michael’s Pony Express claim another crown
ALBUQUERQUE — Sharing is caring.
And St. Michael’s head dance coach Lydia Sanchez — the 29-year caretaker of the Pony Express legacy — cares enough about her sport to share almost unconditionally.
To Albuquerque Hope Christian, Sanchez shared choreography that helped the Lady Huskies win the Class 4A dance title at the State Spirit Championships on Saturday night in The Pit.
To West Las Vegas head coach Brenda Wagoner, she offered her advice and support. In return, Wagoner helped lead the Lady Dons to a third place finish that was the program’s first trophy in more than 30 years.
With her own Pony Express, Sanchez shared the coaching skills that have led to 21 of the vaunted program’s 27 state championships as St. Michael’s outscored Albuquerque Sandia Prep, 171.6-165.7, for the Class 1A-3A dance crown.
The Pony Express were one of two Northern teams to take home a blue state championship trophy as West Las Vegas won its third straight co-ed cheer championship, rallying from third place after the opening day for the second straight year to best Hatch Valley, 160.56-154.57.
Sanchez said she feels it is her duty to help the spirit community by offering her knowledge and support to any program in need of it.
“We help West Las Vegas, we help [Las Vegas] Robertson, I help all the teams,” Sanchez said. “This year, I gave every team a little present. If you noticed, they all had sparkly bows or hair barrettes.”
Wagoner is a staunch Sanchez supporter, as she leaned on her to help build the West Las Vegas program from scratch in eight years. Even with just five performers on the team, the Lady Dons slipped past Raton to take third place with 146.2 points. They trailed the Lady Tigers, 72.3-72.1, after the first day’s dance-pom routine.
“I can say that Lydia is one of my best friends,” Wagoner said. “I look to her for any time of advice that I can ask for. If she has extras, she is more than willing to give.”
Perhaps the best gift Sanchez has to give is the coaching acumen to adapt. In just two weeks, the Pony Express had to change the ending of its military performancer to adhere to state competition rules. It took a week, but she borrowed something from a University of Utah routine and got her team to learn in time for the competition.
“We got it, not perfectly, but perfect enough,” Sanchez said.
It wasn’t the lone challenge the squad encountered. The music for the performance was hard to hear amid the cheers from the crowd, so the squad had to rely on its training to execute the moves. Sanchez had her team work on the routine without music just for this instance.
“You take what she’s saying, and you take it and learn it, then let it go,” senior Aubrey Pacheco said.
Krysten Cavazos let go of any apprehension about the pain in her left knee, caused by a torn anterior cruciate ligament she suffered during the Halftime Hoorah during the state basketball tournament two weeks ago.
The injury prevented her from performing jumps or tumbles, but the senior Lady Don did her part to help the co-ed cheer squad win its fourth state title in five years.
“I had my physical therapist wrap it, got a brace, took some Aleve and I was fine,” Cavazos said. “I don’t feel much pain. When I’m out there, the adrenaline’s rushing so much I don’t feel anything.”
Once again, West Las Vegas found itself behind two other schools heading into the cheer with music performance for the final day. However, the gap to first place St. Michael’s was a mere 1.3 points —a far better position than the 3.07 point deficit the team faced a year ago.
West Las Vegas executed its routine almost flawlessly as its score of 76.16 was seven points better than Hatch Valley, which took second, and almost 12 points higher than the score for St. Michael’s.
“It was a fight,” West Las Vegas head coach Isabel Cavazos said. “They just hit everything. That pyramid … oh my God, that was a top-of-the-line pyramid!”
In coach Cavazos’ five years, she has guided the program to four blue trophies and a runner-up green in 2016. It was far more than she could have imagined when she took over.
“Oh my gosh, having one state title exceeded my expectations,” Cavazos said.
While four out of five is pretty impressive, the Taos cheer squad was looking for a five-peat. However, its expectations ran into another highly-touted program in Valencia, which was aiming for its second 4A title in three years. The Lady Jaguars held a 93.77-93.23 lead heading into the final day, and simply outperformed the Lady Tigers to win by a 185.95-181.27 score.
The disappointment was hard to hide on the faces of the Taos cheerleaders, as many of them cried for several minutes after the results were announced.
“We did have one drop [Saturday], but so did they,” Taos head coach Lisa Abeyta-Valerio said. “Our difficulty was amazing. Unfortunately, cheer is very subjective and it’s up to five judges to make the call.”
Pecos and Questa entered the 1A-2A cheer competition as defending state champions (the Lady Panthers won the 3A title in 2018, the Lady Wildcats were the defending 1A-2A champion), but both fell short in their title defenses.
A close, four-team race among Pecos, Questa, Fort Sumner and Clayton emerged after Day One as the four teams were separared by just 1.5 points. The Lady Yellowjackets, though, held off the Lady Panthers’ charge to win, 169.54-169.22.