GREAT FALLS — Rise Athletics is the only all-star cheer team in Great Falls, and it's made a lot of noise since starting the program in 2019.
They have countless banners hanging inside their practice gym, including multiple national titles and a world’s finalist from 2021 where they finished in fourth place. The team recently came back from the Rockstar National All-Star competition in Kansas City, Missouri. It was another successful trip for the team as the senior team placed third, but the junior team won the competition and earned a bid to return to the world competition in May.
“Worlds is the super bowl of cheerleading,” said director Lani McCarthy. “There is over 1,500 teams and only about 10% will qualify to go, so it is very elite.”
It seems obvious that qualifying for worlds is not an easy task, but it goes even deeper than that. Winning and losing in all-star cheerleading can be determined by a .01 point differential. In a two day competition, you can feel confident about your perforce after day one but wouldn’t truly know where you stand until the second day.
In each division, you have to place the highest score to be eligible for a bid. While the team was in Kansas City, it was anxious to find out how it did.
“We were standing there holding hands and pretty much panicking,” McCarthy said. “I can’t explain the feeling. I’ve been doing this 14 years and it never gets old.”
McCarthy's daughter, Emma McCarthy, graduated high school last year but has been coaching with the program since her freshman year. Prior to this year, Emma McCarthy was both a coach and an athlete at the same time. Since stepping into a full time coaching role, she has shared the love of her sport through the athletes she leads.
“I just love being apart of the girls and helping them grow and love the sport that I love too,” she said.
The transition has been easy for her because she can relate to what the young cheerleaders are experiencing. They respond to her very well because the age gap is a lot closer compared to other athletes and coaches.
“I have the athlete edge still,” McCarthy said. “It helps me understand what they are going through because our other coaches were also cheerleaders but they were a little bit dated. I love them, they were just obviously older than I am.”
The McCarthys have been preparing the team for worlds in May, but they have a couple stops before they get there, including Las Vegas and Chicago. The team has been putting in extra work as it tries to come back from the world competition with a first-place banner.
“We have definitely upped our practices. They are putting in three hours at practice during the week and coming in on weekends so we can upgrade our routines. We have increased our difficulty even higher,” said Lani McCarthy. “They can’t wait. They want to go and bring home another banner for Montana.”