Fairmont Senior cheerleaders

The Fairmont Senior cheerleading squad.

FAIRMONT — It only makes sense that Nathy Janes — head coach for the Fairmont Senior cheerleading squad — entered the field that she did. As she tells it, her dad was a longtime basketball coach himself, and growing up she was always around the profession.

When she took her first coaching job, her dad imparted what he considered the most important piece of wisdom in the industry — and it has served Janes well over the years.

“The first thing my dad told me is that your team is only as good as your leaders, and that has proven true to me over and over again through the years,” she said.

With a squad that hasn’t made the trip to the state championships in four years and has eight freshmen and two additional newcomers on a roster of just 13 athletes, leadership was perhaps even more important than it usually is for Janes’ program this season. Luckily, her three returners from last year — sophomores Gracie Lamb and Alexa Wilson and senior Olivia Esposito — have done a wonderful job of stepping in and providing that spark.

“More than anything, your leadership on your team, it’s their mentality that sets the tone. Their attitudes will generate your end result more than anything - one thing you cannot teach is that inner grit, that motivation and attitude. That’s something they have to decide on,” she said.

“The bottom line is, it’s more about the attitude of the people who are looked to as leaders - if they’re ready to go in, take on the world, and keep their energy and spirits up, that’s going to permeate into the rest of the team. If your team is lacking that, you can have all the skillset in the world and your team isn’t going anywhere.”

That leadership has helped lead a youthful team coming off a

troubled few years to their most successful season in recent memory, as they captured second place in the Class AA Region 1 Championship — earning a trip to the WVSSAC Class AA State Championships in December — and also finished in fifth place in the Big 10 Championships.

While those returning from last year’s unit knew they’d be expected to take on leadership roles and had a goal in mind for where the team could end up this season, they still had to put in quite an effort to get the team where they needed to be. Through leaning on their coaching staff and their past experiences as players, they were able to figure out just how to do that.

“I’ve definitely learned from my coach — she’s taught me to be responsible and tough through what we’ve gone through. We knew what we were capable of and we knew we just needed to prove it coming back — it’s taken a lot of grit and determination to push through to be our absolute best, and we’re all at the point where we’re finally focused on ourselves and we’re here to do what we need to do to get the job done,” Lamb said.

“Last year I struggled as a freshman, so I was a lot of my teammates’ shoes last year. I just want to do everything I can to make sure they’re getting along okay — this is a family, and you want to treat your teammates as such,” Wilson said.

As the team came together under the leadership of those returners, they began to progress as a unit, and Janes has been extremely pleased with how far they have come since. Now, the team is focused on preparing for the state championships, where they’re ready to prove that despite their recent absence, they’re now right where they belong.

“A lot of the girls that are freshman I have been cheering with for a lot of my life. The progression we have all made is insane — we went from barely being able to hit a stunt through now being able to get out of regionals and head to states,” Lamb said.

“We are definitely a younger team but we have a lot of talent. We’ve all done all-stars and been together working since January. It was rough at first but we had our goal in my mind, and now we’ve accomplished that and now we’re going to states. I’m really proud of the team and what we’ve done with everything we’ve been through,” Esposito said.

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