The Los Gatos Longhorns Pop Warner Cheer team recently placed first in their category-division in the JAMZ Cheer and Dance Youth Nationals in Las Vegas Jan. 20-21. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Stollman.

When the Los Gatos Longhorns Cheer team didn’t place in a Pop Warner competition at the beginning of the season last September, members of the team weren’t satisfied. 

“We were all bummed out about it and that’s when we decided to extend the season,” Longhorns coach Cheryl Stollman said. “We felt there was unfinished business and we weren’t ready for the season to end.”

The Longhorns decided to extend their competition season, with the goal to qualify for the JAMZ Cheer and Dance Youth Nationals Jan. 20-21 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Their hard work paid off as they took first place in their classification, Division 10 (age group), Level One, Medium Squad (13-member max roster). 

“We came together, showed a lot of teamwork, practiced a lot, showed a lot of dedication, and a lot of desire went into winning a national title,” Stollman said. “The girls really wanted that and so far it’s definitely the biggest accomplishment in the two years I’ve been here.”

The roster includes Abby Asko, Dezarey Ayala-Ibarra, Amelia Hambaz, Chloe Matar, Milla Salaz, Sofia Sanchez, Lexi Shanahan, Julie Sosa, Emmy Stollman, Hazel Thomas, Taylor Wilson and Thi Yonehiro. Stollman said assistant coach Dakota Wood was instrumental in the team winning at Nationals. 

“We couldn’t have done it and had the season we had without her,” Stollman said. “She ran practices when I had to work and the girls love her. She’s amazing.”

To qualify for Nationals, Los Gatos had to take part in a regional competition in November, where it placed third. Depending on the category and division, some teams do several routines spread out over an entire week in a national competition. 

But for the Longhorns, their result would be predicated on one performance, ratcheting up the pressure. They came through when it counted the most, nailing their routine. 

“They definitely went out there and killed it,” Stollman said. “We were sharp, clean and hit our jumps. They really performed that routine the best they’ve ever done it. Once they got out there and performed, they looked amazing. And to be honest, we weren’t even expecting to win. We kind of wanted to go out there for the experience and ended up taking first place out of 11 teams.”

Stollman said the team actually struggled in practice in certain areas, only to see it perform when the lights were brightest. 

“We did struggle a lot in practice with stunting,” she said. “It was hard to get them stabilized and keep them up, but in the routine, they did all the stunts well.”

There’s always a layer of suspense when it comes to announcing the winner at cheer competitions. Once the Longhorns finished their routine, Stollman picked up the deduction sheets to see if the team had any points taken away for dropped stunts, improper tumbling, or any other rule violations. 

As Stollman stared at the deduction sheet, she had to do a double take because there were zero deductions. 

“I was thinking, ‘Wow that’s awesome,’” she said. “We didn’t do anything wrong. We’re in another room about an hour after they perform, and that’s when they do the awards ceremony. They start with sixth place and go through the order until they said, ‘first place, Longhorns,’ and we all just lost it and were screaming. We went up to the stage to get our medals and got a picture taken. It was just an amazing moment.”

Most of the cheer team members are 9- and 10-year-olds, and Stollman said she loved how they developed close bonds as the season progressed. Stollman’s first coaching stint started in the late 1990s with a different cheer organization. Stollman spent a long time away before her cousin—who was the head coach of the Longhorns last year—asked her to come help out for a couple of practices. 

“And next thing you know I’m coming to all the practices,” she said. “I kind of got sucked back into it. You don’t do it so long and do it for one day and remember how much you loved it. So I decided to take on the team this season.”

The Los Gatos Longhorns Cheer team won their category-division in the JAMZ Nationals. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Stollman.
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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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