I finished (um, binged) Netflix’s popular docu-series Cheer a week and a half ago, and my heart still hasn’t stopped pounding from the finale. As you might recall, the stakes couldn’t have been higher: the Navarro College cheer team had just spent months suffering through injuries, nonstop practice, and intense pressure to succeed, again, at the cheerleading national championships. As they ran onto the mat in Daytona, FL, and sprang into their routine, all that build-up came to a soaring climax — and then to a crashing, stomach-dropping halt.
During a mid-routine tumbling pass, Navarro cheerleader Austin Bayles landed awkwardly, grabbing his ankle in pain and hobbling to the corner of the mat. Seconds later, the music cut out and the team rushed off the stage.
Then, it was straight to crisis mode. Navarro would get the chance to finish their performance with an alternate team member, Alex Bouhuys, but they had just 30 minutes to rework the routine. If you’d thought it impossible to put more pressure on this team, you were wrong.
Head coach Monica Aldama said her first reaction was disbelief. “I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, he fell,’ which was shocking, because he’s done that routine over and over,” she told POPSUGAR. On the mat, her athletes were at a loss. “I was freaking out,” said flyer Morgan Simianer. “I didn’t know what it meant when the music stopped. I was so confused.”
“All I could think was, ‘Can he finish the routine? Can he make it through the pyramid?'” Monica remembered. “And they stopped the music and . . . time stopped for a minute. I was in shock.” She confirmed with the medical team that Austin was out for good. “At that moment, I had to just breathe for a second,” she recalled.
Then, “I totally went into focus mode,” Monica said. “I told the team, ‘I work best under pressure. We’ve got this.'”
Jerry Harris, a fan-favorite stunter from the show, said he strove to keep his cool for his teammates. “I feel like I was very composed. I didn’t really show that much emotion wise.” After talking to Monica, he said, “I knew that we were going to figure it out and make it work.”
“I was really nervous,” said tumbler Lexi Brumback. “It was [Alex’s] first time taking Austin’s spot . . . He never got to practice being in that spot, except for that small time that we had. And of course he was really nervous.”
“I was pacing back and forth while Alex was making up a whole routine,” Morgan remembered. “I was trying to mentally prepare myself to compete again . . . We were dead silent the whole time.”
Navarro took the stage again and, in a testament to their grit, talent, and determination, pulled off the performance flawlessly. When they were finally crowned champions, “it was amazing,” Monica said. “It was a relief. It was every emotion you can think of wrapped into one.”
“I was just so proud of our team,” Morgan added. “All that we had overcome and got through that season, and even leading up to our last moments in Daytona . . . the feeling that we had was worth more than any rank or title ever could [bring].”
For Lexi, the win brought a level of joy she’d never experienced. “I’ve never felt so alive. I’ve never really won a big title like that in my entire career,” she said. “It was really a feeling that I will never forget, and I hope I get to feel that again.”
Navarro lifted the trophy and splashed into the Daytona waves, apparently sealing their fairy tale ending, but the story wasn’t quite over. It wasn’t until after the series aired in early January that we learned that many of the major cast members would be returning to Navarro for another season, including Morgan and Jerry, who had both considered other schools, and Lexi, who rejoined the team after a “second chance” from Monica. Now it seems there are only two questions left: will Navarro defend their national title in 2020? And will there be a second season of Cheer so we can watch them do it? We’ll just have to wait to find out. If you need us in the meantime, we’ll be here watching all of the mesmerizing Navarro routines we can find.