Coach Cadey Vakauta gave every drop of energy she had.
So much so, that the morning after her Sacred Hearts Academy Lancers won their fourth consecutive league title, she was speechless.
“I woke up this morning to a phone call and realized once I said, ‘Hello,’ that I lost my voice,” Vakauta wrote via text on Saturday.
Her voice was intact on Friday night, when the Lancers captured another Interscholastic League of Honolulu competitive cheer title at Kekuhaupio Gym.
Co-captain Alissa De Smet never tires of that winning sensation. The finality of it, especially after the Lancers earned another national championship just one week before the ILH showdown, is difficult to grasp.
“I’m feeling good. I’ve been wondering when it’s going to kick in. It hasn’t kicked in yet,” the senior said. “It’s going to settle in, this entire season.”
That’s two No. 1 finishes in the JAMz nationals in 2019 and ’20, and this year’s title in NCA, followed by the league crown seven days later. No wonder Coach Vakauta lost her voice.
“This year feels so different from the other (titles). I couldn’t be more proud,” she said. “Every year, it becomes more difficult to stay on top, so our feelings intensify.”
In a COVID-19 pandemic, the Lancers adapted. Their 2021 national title routine was done without leaving the state, shot entirely on video. That was fine. The format was the same as usual, permitting full stunts.
“It’s been a very long ride,” co-captain Cayla Cabanban said. “It was very difficult, but it paid off with another title. It was a lot of hard work, pain, sweat and tears. But hard work will take you over talent.”
The ILH competition involved no stunts at all — arguably the Lancers’ strength.
“Since there’s no jumps, we just tumble, jump and do dance motion sequence,” De Smet said.
“It was a very tough adjustment,” Vakauta said. “Stunts have definitely been our strength throughout the years, so adjusting to an all-tumbling routine with more than half my team consisting of freshmen and someone who never cheered before was one of the biggest challenges. The team had to learn and perform two different routines around the same time. That also added challenges we had to face together.”
Without stunts — abiding by COVID-19 restrictions — this year’s ILH routine was cut down from 2.5 minutes to 1.5.
“So much happens in that small amount of time,” De Smet said. “I was real excited for nationals. I feel like I like both of them. Nationals, we get to stunt and I really like stunting. It’s one of my strong suits. ILH, I really liked our music, and I think tumbling’s fun, too.”
Rewiring a team’s performance pushed the Lancers into a different universe.
“I’m glad that my team and I adapted to change. We still executed and came up on top,” Cabanban said.
One of her goals was to achieve a four-peat, or grand slam, at the ILH and state levels like her brother, former Saint Louis wrestler Corey Cabanban. State championships were cancelled for winter sports, but the ILH provided an opportunity for competitive cheer.
“Each title is so amazing. I feel relieved that I’m done with my high school career. The fourth one just takes my heart. At that moment, I knew I was a four-time ILH champion like my brother,” she said.
Vakauta was well aware of Cabanban’s goal.
“Cayla is the only athlete who was able to compete on varsity since her freshman year, and I wanted her to be able to call herself a four-time ILH champion because that has always been her dream since ninth grade,” Vakauta said. “I feel like I can finally take a breath. I wanted it so badly for her.”
The origin story of building a competitive cheer team, becoming dynastic and leaving on top doesn’t happen often. Cabanban has the same dream for her younger teammates.
“I hope they know the expectations from past years and, of course, this year, that they carry it on to the next team and generation, and even to college,” she said. “Carry on the legacy that we built.”
Cabanban is hoping to cheer at Hawaii or Alabama.
“Shout to to God, my parents, my coaches and everyone for supporting me to become who I am today,” she said.
The finality isn’t quite here yet, but De Smet says her cheer days are done.
“I’m hoping to go to UH. I don’t think I’m going to cheer in college,” said De Smet, who has a 3.5 grade-point average.
Vakauta hasn’t let go just yet of this year’s team.
“To my ‘Golden Girlz,’ my Waialae wahine, you are my confident ninjas. Things may not go your way in life and sometimes all odds will be put against you, but my question to you will always be the same: what are you going to do about it?
“Continue to be resilient and have a positive attitude in everything you do, and you can accomplish anything! You are in charge of your own destiny no matter what obstacles you face. Continue to do God’s work and always remember you are representing your state, your school and your family. I will always be here supporting you both on and off the mat. I couldn’t be more proud of you! You did it!”