A space where voices are heard, the stresses of life fade into the background, and each athlete can be themselves is the type of program Casteel cheer strives to be.
When head coach Ashley Davis took over at the start of the 2020 season, she knew how the athletes’ lives were outside of cheer on a daily basis as a mother.
“I have a 15-year-old, I live this life,’’ she said. “I go through what their parents go through on a daily basis in my own life.’’
Because she experiences a lot of this in her own life, Davis can see and understand the ups and downs and catches on quickly to body language and other non-verbal communication and can tell when one of the girls is emotionally unstable or stressed.
Davis knew that for the girls to become better athletes, building trust and an open line of communication was the first step, something that in her previous years as assistant coach of the team she noticed was lacking and affected performance.
Marlee Aguiar, a senior who joined the team her sophomore year after transferring to Casteel, says Davis’s open communication approach helped her get comfortable with the team faster.
“When I joined the team (coach) Davis was really welcoming and assured me that I had a place on the team,’’ she said. “We (the team) are with her all the time so she’s like a mom to us. We can literally talk to her about anything.’’
For Aguiar, this was a welcomed change as she expressed that at her previous school the cheer team had an unwelcoming and negative atmosphere while Casteel was the opposite of that.
Fellow teammate and senior Lauren Spencer said that she noticed the team is doing better this year and she credits Davis’s ability to not only be a good cheer coach but also to be a mom and help the athletes' confidence.
“She makes sure that we’re not out there just trying to do the hardest things ever,’’ Spencer said. “She makes sure we’re doing what we can do and we’re learning and having fun.’’
Cheerleaders on the team say that Davis’s approach to running the team has made their experience more enjoyable and even inspired them to take cheer further than high school.
“I joined cheer as a hobby in high school and now it’s a passion,’’ Aguiar said. “I want to cheer in college.’’
Spencer echoed her sentiments saying that while a current injury may prevent her from cheering in college, in the two years that Davis has been coach of the team, she realized that she could cheer in college if she was healthy and wanted to, something she did not believe she was good enough to do before.
Another thing that the safe space of cheer that Davis has created for her athletes helps with is the athletes’ mental health. After a rough day, they (the athletes) know that cheer is a place where any stress or nonpositive emotions can be let go of.
“At the end of everyday we’re all like OK we’re here to cheer, we're not here to do anything else let’s just focus on this and have fun,’’ Aguiar said.
As the two seniors are in their final stretch of being a part of Casteel cheer, both will take something away from being part of the program.
“Definitely hard work,’’ Spencer said. “I have had to work hard for my spot on the team all four years. You never just have a sure spot. You always have to continuously get better, and I feel like that’s helped me create good habits that I’m going to take with me to college.’’
Aguiar said she has learned about the importance of teamwork during her time on the team..
“Everyone always says teamwork makes the dream work, but it really does because once everyone’s working toward the same thing and being positive everything goes well.’’
Aguiar also said that she never imagined all the girls on the team becoming a second family for her.
“I Feel like I’ve grown bonds with people that I never would’ve expected to be best friends and I seriously love every single person on this team,’’ she said. “They are literally my sisters.’’
While Spencer couldn’t find the words to express this herself, she turned toward Aguiar and shook her head in agreement with a wide-eyed smile on her face and the two shared a moment of laughter about it.
Davis said this senior class will be the hardest to see leave as it is the group she began to build her team with. It makes her proud when thinking about the things these ladies will go on to accomplish.
As they move on, Davis wants her athletes to remember that it will never be easy but hard work pays off and that if they don’t put in the work they will not get to that next level. The girls are constantly pushing their limits and are often still practicing long after everyone else has gone home.
With the continued dedication of the team, Casteel cheer has a bright future ahead and coach Davis fully believes that the team is headed for greatness.
"The grass is not always greener on the other side,’’ Davis said. “Our team may not be the top of the top right now, but these girls stuck with it and worked through it. Hard work will pay off eventually whether it’s their season or the girls coming behind them. They are laying the foundation.’’