Kyleigh Gowell, right, fixes Alicen Burnham’s hair bow in the Monmouth Academy high school gym before the Monmouth cheer team’s team photo and celebration in April for winning the Class C state championship. Gowell is a senior on the team this season, while Burnham graduated in the spring.  Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Monmouth Academy stunned the competition after the Mustangs snatched the Class C state cheering title last season, but the team now has a chance to walk off with the Class D title, too.

The Mustangs moved to Class D this season, but it makes no difference to the Mustangs coach or his team.

“It is awesome because they are hungry to get back on the mat and, you know, to go for a second state title,” Monmouth coach Brandon Ouellette said. “I don’t think they care at the class that they are in. They are just trying to outdo their scores from last year and they are always looking to improve the difficulty in stunts — and that is what is going to happen this year.”

Ouellette’s biggest concern is COVID-19, which has already infected the team at the beginning of the season. But the coach, who cheered for the University of Massachusetts Amherst during his college career, said the team is on the mend.

“I think COVID is worse this year than last year,” he said. “We are still wearing masks, which is fine.”

College-bound senior Kayleigh Gowell said the Mustangs’ passion and positive attitudes for the sport just might be the team’s greatest assets.

“I think we have high (chances),” Gowell said. “We are looking pretty strong already and it is only the beginning of the season. I think we can pull it off if we work hard. 

“We are all very confident and we all get along together, so that is very important in cheering because the whole entire routine is about working together.”

Lily Turcotte removes the bow from her hair after the Monmouth Academy cheer team’s championship team photo at the school in April. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

But the Mustangs won’t allow the coronavirus to sidetrack them this early in the season.

“Everybody is brother and sister,” Ouellette said with pride. “Everybody gets along. They all want to be there. I think that is why we were so successful last year having a season that was like five months long … they wanted to come to practice every day. 

“The team, academic-wise, is very, very smart. I didn’t have to worry about that either, (with) grades posting, because they were all on honor roll. That is a good thing good thing to have as a coach, as well, so you don’t have to worry about … routines because somebody is ineligible.” 

The Mustangs’ anchor — senior Jake Umberhind — also returns for the Mustangs and is eager to collect another title.

Umberhind, a lineman who was a member of the Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale football team and now plans on playing football for Massachusetts Maritime Academy, remains astounded to this day that he got hooked on cheering.

“I wasn’t interested in it at first,” he said. “All the girls needed a strong person to throw them.”

He said the cheerleaders at the middle school encouraged him to join the team.

In high school, I finally decided to do it because prior I was a wrestler for a long time, but all the injuries at the middle school turned me off from the sport,” he explained. “I just needed another winter sport my freshman year. So, I said, ‘Sure, why not.’ My favorite part is stunting, of course, because I get to use all my strength to throw people.”

By his sophomore year, Umberhind became comfortable with cheering and really enjoys getting out there on the mat.

“Jake has been here since freshman year and he is a top football player,” Ouellette said. “You definitely don’t see it very often. When you do see it, it is pretty funny, the outcome of it, because you use every single part of your body in cheerleading. It is a good thing to keep yourself in shape and Jake can (attest) to that (and) that cheerleading’s workouts are just as crucial and crazy as football.”

The Monmouth stalwart says his size, 6-foot, 340 pounds, discourages the guys from ribbing him over his cheerleading exploits.

Umberhind said the team is packed with seniors with solid experience.

“I feel pretty confident in our abilities as a team,” he said. “I am just happy to have cheering again and hopefully to  perform in front of people.”

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