KASSON — The biggest cheer is yet to come.

The Kasson-Mantorville varsity competition cheer team earned a spot at the Universal Cheerleaders Association national competition, scheduled for Feb. 11-13 at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla. Now the team is trying to earn the funds to make the trip happen.

The group needs $15,000 by Jan. 20 in order to pay for the airfare, hotel and other travel costs for the team's 10 members and coach. That said, if cheering is one thing this group does well, raising funds is another.

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"The team is funded by parents and fundraisers," said Nikki Andrist,coach of the varsity competition cheer team.

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Because Minnesota State High School League does not recognize competition cheerleading as a sport, the team is regarded as an activity, meaning that while it carries the Kasson-Mantorville name and wears the school colors, it does not receive funding from the school. So everything the team needs – uniforms, travel costs, camps – are all funded through the parents and fundraisers, Andrist said.

But that also means the girls on the team are dedicated to practicing and performing since they and their families put so much into it. Some of the girls have been part of the program since they were in first grade, Andrist said, and all have been involved at least seven years.

That leads to a lot of dedication from girls who power through physically draining workouts and can even sustain injuries that sideline them.

Aleya White, one of three co-captains along with Annika Hofstad and Taylor Bauer, said she separated her shoulder on a lift stunt last year. She and Hofstad tried one-upping the other on who'd suffered the worse injury.

From left, Annika Hofstad, a senior, Mya Gilbertson, a junior, and Addison Giesler, an 8th-grader, all members of the Kasson-Mantorville competitive cheer team, hold up teammate Maya Torkelson during a practice Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
From left, Annika Hofstad, a senior, Mya Gilbertson, a junior, and Addison Giesler, an 8th-grader, all members of the Kasson-Mantorville competitive cheer team, hold up teammate Maya Torkelson during a practice Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

"A couple of years ago, I had a flyer fall on me," Hofstad said, adding that the injury had sidelined her for some time.

All three said they practically screamed – sitting in a Panera restaurant on the way back from a competition in Minnetonka on Oct. 30 – when they got the news they'd qualified for nationals.

"I was so excited I started crying," said Hofstad. "We've been pushing to go to nationals for years and never had enough points."

Teams earn points by performing elaborate stunts, for pyramids and jumps in their routines. Andrist said every time the girls learn a new skill as a team, that's a new opportunity to score points at a competition.

K-M is one of five schools in their classification from Minnesota that has qualified for nationals, Andrist said.

"I'm really excited," the coach added. "These girls are so determined."

Members of the Kasson-Mantorville competitive cheer team practice Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Members of the Kasson-Mantorville competitive cheer team practice Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

In fact, when the team was formed back in March after tryouts, nationals was the goal. Still, the captains admitted, they didn't believe they'd get there until that day at the Panera. And it's not a done deal yet since they need to raise funds.

A GoFundMe account has been set up for donations. The girls also are looking for sponsors from local businesses and they plan to hold a craft and bake sale.

Andrist said anyone who wants to make a donation can call her or the high school office, which will help donors get in touch with her.

White said this year will be special because instead of watching the competition – it's aired live in ESPN2 and on TV.Varsity.com – they'll actually be there.

Nikki Andrist, head coach of the Kasson-Mantorville competitive cheer team, talks with members of the team during a practice Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Nikki Andrist, head coach of the Kasson-Mantorville competitive cheer team, talks with members of the team during a practice Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Bauer said she's thrilled for the chance to share the nationals experience with her teammates.

"Going with the team will be fun because we're all so close," Bauer said.

Now that's something to cheer for.