All Kristian Westmoreland heard for months from her former Cartersville cheer teammate Caroline Bagwell was how great things were at Jacksonville State.
Bagwell, who graduated in 2017, was really enjoying the team and the coaches. She wanted Westmoreland to come visit, but, with a cheer team of her own to help lead, the Class of 2018 graduate didn't get a chance to head the roughly hour and a half west to get to JSU.
Finally, during the spring semester, Westmoreland got the chance to go. Bagwell had already talked a lot about her, making it easy for her to connect with the other cheerleaders.
“They were all so welcoming when I went to one of the practices and the camp, and they all just welcomed me with open arms and so did the coach,” Westmoreland said. “I knew some of them, and now, they’re like really good friends with me.”
She'll get to be even better friends with them in the future, because they're her teammates now, too.
Westmoreland signed her letter of intent to join the Gamecocks' competitive cheer squad in mid-May. She said Wednesday that she'll start summer practices with the group this weekend.
“I’m ready to cheer at the next level and seize the new opportunities that cheerleading is going to bring to me,” Westmoreland said. “But it’s going to be weird not being at the high school, cheering, because it’s just such family.”
According to Cartersville head coach Breanna McDonald, Westmoreland and her relatives were a big part of that family.
“Kristian will be very missed,” McDonald said. “Her family are one of a kind, and we could not have been more grateful to have them as part of the Cartersville community. She was definitely the heart of the team, as well as her family. They are irreplaceable. So we are sad to see them go on, but very proud at the same time.”
The Canes will also miss Westmoreland's leadership. She and the other graduated seniors were the last remaining cheerleaders from Cartersville's 2014 state championship-winning squad.
“It was like something you’ve never felt before,” Westmoreland said of winning state. “… It was something I’ve never felt. I can’t even describe it.”
She and her fellow seniors used that to help motivate the younger members of the group. Westmoreland said it's the same way the upperclassmen from that 2014 team helped bring the younger ones along.
“At the beginning of the year, us seniors kind of sat them down and explained, ‘We have been the ones to win that state title. We know how it feels to win; we know how it feels to lose. It’s terrible to lose, but it’s the greatest feeling you will ever receive to win,’” Westmoreland said. “At the beginning of the season, we told them that — before even practicing. We told them, ‘This is what we’re working for. You need to have that mindset now. If not, you need to rethink your position. We only want that kind of people on the team.’ And from the beginning, everyone was like, ‘No, we want that.’”
McDonald said that passion to be the best has always been the driving force for Westmoreland, who will be a base for JSU.
“Kristian’s always been a very determined girl who wants to win,” she said. “She will do whatever it takes to make sure her team is the best of the best. Whether it’s putting in more workouts, practicing on the weekend, whatever it takes. She has full commitment to her team.”
Although the Canes didn't end up winning the state title, both player and coach considered it to be a successful season.
The hope for Cartersville is that Westmoreland's attitude and determination rubbed off on the younger cheerleaders. The hope for JSU is that those same attributes make the trip to Jacksonville, Alabama, with her, because McDonald thinks that's what makes her an ideal college cheerleader.
“I think they really liked her personality No. 1, and they felt she was going to get along with the girls very well,” McDonald said. “… I think they kind of knew she would mesh very well. She came in ... and they really liked her work ethic and felt like she would be a really good fit on the team.”