Fourth Time’s a Charm
Tsunami took the 2011 Worlds mat by storm—four times in a row.
Backed by an entire season’s worth of hard work, Tsunami traveled to Worlds in April 2011 with a positive mindset and the distinct goal to improve its previous season’s fifth-place finish. In order to contend with some of the biggest names in cheerleading, the athletes knew they’d have to execute not one, but two flawless routines.
The pressure was on as Tsunami took the floor for the first time that weekend. From the start, Tsunami radiated killer confidence, perfectly performing their opening tumbling skills before nailing Heel Stretch to Bow-and-Arrow Tick-Tocs followed by creative inversions and solid high-to-high Tick-Tocs. As the squad completed its jump sequence, halfway through an already impeccable performance, something strange happened—the lights in the HP Fieldhouse started to fade…
A Marlin History
Maryland Marlins formed in 1997 with just 12 girls and a few eager coaches. They had little idea that their program would grow to become one of the strongest in Maryland. Adding more athletes to their roster with every season, the Marlins skyrocketed in popularity while cementing their reputation. In 2002, as the original squad aged into the program’s first Senior Prep team, Maryland Marlins opened their own gym in Elkridge. During the 2007-08 season, the Marlins’ senior team received the name they would make famous three years later: Tsunami.
For two years, Tsunami competed in the Small Senior Level 5 Division. In its second Small Senior season, they gained national attention after receiving a full-paid bid to Worlds and placing 15th. The following year, the team made an even bigger splash by switching into America’s darling division, the ultra-competitive Large Senior 5. With all eyes on them, Tsunami faced the strongest teams from the nation’s largest gyms. Other squads would have surely buckled under the pressure, but Tsunami immediately took to the larger stage and brighter lights. At the 2010 World Championships, they placed fifth behind World Cup, Cheer Extreme, Cheer Athletics and Maryland Twisters. Now, their challenge was to prove the team wasn’t a one-hit wonder.
Today, Maryland Marlins is home to nearly 175 athletes. Despite their recent wave of successes, the Marlins maintain the close-knit feel of their early years. Tsunami, the program’s flagship team, is built on the foundation of dedication, determination and love laid down by the original 12 Marlins.
“A Tsunami athlete has something special,” says Maryland Marlins founder and Tsunami coach Terri Curley. “Is she an amazing top girl? The hardest worker you’ve ever seen? An amazing tumbler? We look for all those special attributes and a heart of gold.”
Combining extreme stunting with sharp motions and solid technique, Tsunami’s unique routines have propelled them into the spotlight. The increased attention has neither inflated their egos nor deflated their work ethic. Rather, it has strengthened the humility and poise that earned them the unofficial title of “America’s Sweethearts.”
Practice Makes Perfect
“Being a Level 5 cheerleader is tough,” admits 2010-11 Tsunami captain Kate Wilson. “It’s time consuming and physically and emotionally tough. You have to be determined and focused at all times.”
To remain competitive with the biggest names in all-star, Tsunami athletes dedicate hours to intense practices. Typically, the girls warm up stunts and tumbling before executing their routine up to five times full out. Afterwards, the coaches critique and polish the routine’s sloppier sections while the athletes work to solidify their skills. The thoughtfully structured practices help build the athletes’ stamina, muscle memory and trust in one another.
“In order to have a chance in hanging with the top contenders in our division, we had to try and work harder than anyone in the division,” says current Tsunami captain Brittany Trappe. “We conditioned like crazy and spent hours and hours on our stunts. Since we lacked in the tumbling category, hitting our stunts perfect was the only option. Our practices were at least three hours long, three times a week and sometimes more!”
After months of tough practices leading up to the 2010-11 competition season, Tsunami was ready to put their hard work to the test. At Spirit Nationals in December, they earned one of the highest scores of the event and a paid bid to the 2011 Worlds. At February’s Spirit of Hope Nationals, Tsunami debuted a revamped routine, featuring high-to-high Tick-Tocs.
“We struggled with [the Tick-Tocs], but we pushed ourselves to do them and they brought us great success,” says Tsunami athlete Maddie Pfeifer. “We have a poster that says: ‘If you want something, you have to find a way to make it happen.’ We stand by that. We set goals, and then push ourselves to take risks and go beyond what people expect of us to accomplish those.”
At Cheersport Nationals at the end of February, Tsunami placed second behind the reigning World Champions, Cheer Extreme Senior Elite. By then, Tsunami felt ready to take on the world.
Blackout at Worlds
“We were so pumped that we’d hit all of our stunts,” remembers Kate. “Transitioning to jumps, everything was going great. Then the lights started to dim and the next thing you know the arena was completely black. We were at our tumbling section when that happened and we still had girls coming out of the corner to throw passes because we didn’t know whether to stop or keep going.”
However, after a moment, Tsunami’s performance was stopped abruptly. The athletes found their coaches backstage and were told they had to perform their routine again from the beginning when the lights returned. Though tired and frustrated, the team members were ready to prove themselves a second time. “Never once did giving up enter my head,” Kate continues. “We are a group of fighters and had fought the whole year to make it this far. We weren’t going to back down.” Re-energized and refocused, Tsunami delivered another powerful performance. Wowing the judges with their innovative stunts and crisp choreography, Tsunami finished fourth after day one.
On day two, Tsunami took the floor determined to match its previous performances. And just as they’d done the day before, the athletes captivated the crowd with their ability to execute complex stunt sequences and powerful tumbling passes with ease and grace.
As Tsunami reached the midpoint of their routine, talented tumbler and key flyer Brea Curley landed her double full awkwardly and stumbled to the ground—it was a torn ACL. Desperate to finish the routine with her teammates, Brea staggered to her feet only to collapse again, physically unable to complete the performance. For the second time in two days, Tsunami’s performance was cut in the middle as the team was told to exit the floor and start over, for a fourth time. As the girls exited the stage, Brittany was approached for a routine post-performance interview.
“The microphone was thrust into my face as Brea was being carried off the floor,” remembers Brittany. “I just took a deep breath and spoke right from my heart. I explained how our gym isn’t made up of hundreds of athletes with crazy tumbling passes and how we’d only been to Worlds three times. We were always known as the underdogs. We were used to having to overcome struggles and troubles, so this was just part of our story. I thanked those in the arena that believed in us from when no one knew our name and told them how much it meant to us…I made it my focus to give my team, my coaches and anyone who was there that day something that had seemed lost within the chaos: hope.”
As Brittany bared her heart, the crowd erupted in support for Tsunami. With an entire arena’s loving encouragement, Tsunami knew they’d be able to pull off a fourth routine. In the warm-up area, alternate Lauren Harold, who competed with the team multiple times throughout the season, boldly stepped in where Brea had based in the pyramid. And just as their luck appeared to be turning, a teammate was knocked in the face during a run-through of the pyramid, resulting in an almost-injury and dramatic dip in the team’s confidence. Heading into their fourth performance, the girls were physically exhausted and emotionally distraught. Tsunami’s coaches rallied the team’s spirits with powerful pep talks.
“All year, we were told to be warriors,” says Maddie. “Right before we went on we were told: ‘Be warriors. We are a small army in a big war. We are the underdogs and we are mentally and physically strong enough to do this. We will do this for each other, we will do this for Brea.’ All of us were crying and ready to fight until the end. We got through round four by being a family and by being strong.”
For the fourth time in two days, Tsunami performed a perfect routine. The crowd pushed the team through its final performance, chanting Brea’s name and exploding after every completed skill. “It was very hard to watch my team perform without me, but I knew they would do just fine because they’re all strong and fighters,” says Brea. “When they hit that routine for the fourth time, even though I wasn’t out there with them, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.”
Tsunami ended the competition in fourth place, behind Maryland Twisters, World Cup and Cheer Extreme. Their resiliency and poise under pressure inspired an entire arena of cheerleaders and fans, while cementing Maryland Marlins as a household name. “We’ve enjoyed our journey thus far and we aren’t stopping here,” says Coach Terri. “I often wonder if reaching the top will be as fun as the climb. It’s been quite a ride and we aren’t done yet.”