McDowell's competitive spirit squad repeats as coed varsity champion of PIAA meet

·3 min read

HERSHEY – The PIAA concluded its 10th competitive spirit meet on Saturday.

That decade's span has provided enough time to determine which state schools are authentic powers in the sport.

The McDowell Trojans are now worthy of such status.

McDowell, coached by Deena Pribonic, defended as the meet's coed varsity champion and also won that division for the fourth time overall.

The Trojans' 2½-minute performance during Saturday's championship round at Hershey's Giant Center drew an average of 92.50 points out of 100 from a three-judge panel.

It was the highest score ever recorded for a coed varsity squad at states, according to Pribonic.

The former McDowell cheerleader, who took over the program last season, said she's dreamed of helping her alma mater achieve the status it now holds in competitive spirit.

“It's incredible,” Pribonic said. “It takes my breath away. Last year, I thought we had nothing to lose. This year, we had everything to lose (as the defending champion). But we kept telling them, 'You can't control what other people do. You can't control the judges. You can only control what you do.'

“That's what we did, and we (won).”

McDowell celebrates after winning the coed varsity title during Saturday's PIAA competitive spirit meet at Hershey's Giant Center. It was the second straight state title and fourth overall for the Trojans.
McDowell celebrates after winning the coed varsity title during Saturday's PIAA competitive spirit meet at Hershey's Giant Center. It was the second straight state title and fourth overall for the Trojans.

The team bus returned home to McDowell High School on Saturday night accompanied by the sirens and lights of three Millcreek Township fire trucks that escorted them. Parents, classmates and other supporters showed up in temperatures below 10 degrees. They cheered as team members stepped out of the bus one by one.

"I'm really proud of our team this year," McDowell team captain Alexis Gausman said Saturday night while holding the Trojans' PIAA trophy in the high school. "Obviously, we're still dealing with the pandemic and we have had setbacks. We've had different members on the team this year, so I'm really happy that we still got to show what we can do.

"This year, we came in with a lot of new people, but it was really exciting to be able to do new skills. There was a little more pressure this year because we did want to go back-to-back (as state champions)."

Gausman was proud of being a member of McDowell's title repeat.

"I've loved being part of this amazing program. I love the school support and seeing everyone come out here (Saturday night)," she said.

District 7 Butler, at 85.20, was presented the state's runner-up award.

The judges deducted the Golden Tornado four points during their championship routine. However, that subtracted total still wouldn't have been enough for them to surpass McDowell, which also claimed its first two PIAA championships in back-to-back style.

The Trojans, then coached by Kathy Wiltse, won the meet's coed varsity division in 2017 and 2018. They also finished second in 2019, when Butler denied the squad's bid at three in a row.

Almost as joyous as Saturday's result was for Pribonic were the inquiries she received from several McDowell students ahead of the squad's departure for Hershey last Thursday.

“We're getting people asking, 'When are tryouts? When can I do this?'” she said. “They want to be part of this team, and that brings to light what a coed team can be.”

McDowell remains the only District 10 squad to call itself a PIAA champ since the PIAA sanctioned competitive spirit in 2013.

Warren sought to become the second on Saturday. The Dragons, finalists in the Class 2A large varsity division (16 or more members), finished fifth overall at 81.76.

Warren, like McDowell, performed well enough during Friday's preliminary round to bypass the semifinals for a berth in the finals.

Neshannock, a suburban New Castle school, won 2A large varsity division at 84.90.

Saturday's other state champions were Lansdale Catholic (2A small varsity at 93.63), Garnet Valley (Class 3A small varsity at 95.06) and Hempfield Area (3A large varsity at 94.20).

Contact Mike Copper at mcopper@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNcopper.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: McDowell competitive spirit squad wins 2nd straight PIAA title