ALBUQUERQUE — The Rio Rancho High School cheerleading team was crowned Friday night as the Class 5A state champion at The Pit, the team’s first blue trophy since 2019.

“I tell you, I didn’t realize we won until I hit that floor (to celebrate after the announcement),” said Karleigh Gabaldon, one of six Ram seniors. “All the emotions just came. When you win state, you know that all of what we did throughout the year, we did it and we did it right.”

Rio Rancho scored 187.27 points on its two routines, besting runner-up La Cueva (182.10) and third-place Cleveland (179.13).

The Rams have enjoyed a terrific run over the last few seasons, finishing third in 2018, first in 2019 and second in 2021. There was no competition in 2020 as it was canceled because of the pandemic.

Rio Rancho faced numerous hurdles, including a dozen girls who missed time due to COVID, plus various injuries over the last few months.

“I think they really pushed through those moments, coming back from COVID, and I think I can speak for every team and coach (and) say they were excited to get back to work,” Rio Rancho coach Wendy Lopez said. “They were so determined … they stay committed and worked hard.”

This year, teams performed both their routines on the same day. The state spirit competition concludes on Saturday with trophies in dance.

The first routine Friday for Rio Rancho was the same one it performed last month in Orlando, Fla., in the National High School Cheerleading Championships, Lopez said, when the Rams placed third in the country.

“It’s been a long journey this year,” said Ram senior Ysabella Bravo. “We’ve had a lot of rough patches. But after getting third in the nation it really pumped us up.”

Lopez said the Rams performed that routine even better Friday than they did in Orlando.

“You know,” Lopez said, “we were hoping for the best. We knew our (first) routine was good, so we came with that same energy, and ultimately they walked off the mat and how they felt at that moment was worth it.”

Said Gabaldon about overcoming adversity: “It shows that we have such love for this sport, and for each other, that no matter what happens, we are going to fight to the finish and win together.”

The victorious Rams celebrate with their newest trophy. (Mike Sandoval photo.)