MARION (WSIL) -- The Carterville High School Varsity Cheerleading squad took first place in Illinois High School Association Sectionals held virtually due to COVID-19 mitigation measures.
The team, who is the defending state champions, held a watch party Saturday morning at the Oasis Drive-In Theater in Marion. That's where several dozen people joined the cheerleaders as performances from squads across the state streamed onto the big screen.
Senior Kealan Conover says the pressure on their performance was the same as an in-person competition, but the gym was "really quiet."
"I think it means the world to all of us," says Conover. "I think we're all super excited to defend our title and it's something we've all been looking forward to and been excited about since the beginning of the year."
Head Coach Linda Drust says training is challenging while keeping with COVID-19 safety guidelines, and the performance is a testimony to handling those obstacles.
"The sectional run that we sent in, we felt like we did the best that we could," explains Drust. "We're always striving for execution that is top notch, and we'll just see what happens, there's a lot of good teams in the state."
The Virtual Cheer Competition is a first for Illinois. Teams video recorded their routines a few days ago and sent them in for Saturday's judging.
Carterville won the Small Varsity Division and now begins preparing for the State Finals next week.