The Rio Rancho High School varsity cheer squad finished third in a huge national competition in Orlando, Fla., last weekend.

There, the team – coached by Wendy Lopez – had the opportunity to attend the largest and most prestigious high school cheerleading championship in the U.S.

The RRHS squad, the lone team there from New Mexico, competed in the Large Varsity Division 1 Game Day division and brought home bronze medals and a trophy.

Lopez was happy and justifiably proud of her large squad, competing, she said, against the “top 20 teams from across the country – one of the toughest divisions.”

Their first performance, on Feb. 11, she said, “went great. We felt good – high energy, sharp motions, crowd-leading – we gave it our all.”

Later, the team heard it was among the 10 teams to advance to the finals.

“The finals were Sunday night,” Lopez said. “We were the last team to perform, and it was an even better performance than the first.

“They lined all 10 teams up on the stage and began to announce the order from 10th to first. When they announced fourth, we knew we had made the top three, which was so incredible,” she said, recalling the Rams placing fifth there in 2016 and then fourth in 2020.

Then Lopez and the Rams heard, “In third place, taking home the bronze medal from Rio Rancho, New Mexico …Rio Rancho High School.”

“It was so amazing to hear our name, our state, our school,” Lopez said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these young ladies and all their hard work.”

What’s it all about?

For more than 40 years, the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) National High School Cheerleading Championship has been the culmination of the season for cheerleaders across the nation. It’s the opportunity for cheerleading teams to get together and celebrate each other at the Walt Disney World Resort, where Lopez said her Rams had a lot of fun.

The UCA’s big event is the only high school cheerleading championship endorsed by the National Federation of High School Associations, reflecting the values UCA shares and the high standards developed for its camp curriculum, regional qualifiers and the NHSCC.

The NHSCC is the largest and most prestigious high school cheerleading championship in the country. In one year it can host over 20,000 athletes and 950 teams.

Maybe wearing masks for the last time, the national bronze-medal winning RRHS cheerleaders pose for a photo at halftime of a basketball game Feb. 16. (Herron photo)