OAKLEY — Two days before departing for the State Cheer Championships, Azlyn Gillette was out with an injury.
She hadn’t practiced in 10 days.
For a sport that requires perfect synchronization with her teammates, 10 days without practice is a long time. It’s enough to cause doubt in any athlete.
If the Oakley senior was nervous, she never showed it.
Stepping onto the mat at the Ford Idaho Center, the only thing more apparent than her large leg brace was her determination. Gillette had a state title to defend. Her teammates were counting on her.
“I was not going to let it stop me,” she said in regards to her injury.
Two weeks before state cheer, Gillette came down wrong during pole vault practice. Immediately she felt the pain in her knee. She knew she hurt something, she just didn’t know how bad the injury was.
As she would soon find out, Gillette had torn her ACL, her MCL and part of her meniscus.
“Right when I heard the news, I just broke down crying,” she said.
With Gillette being captain of the team and a leader among the other girls, coaches Renee Cranney and Tanette McKee were nervous to discover the extent of the damage.
“We had a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C depending on what the diagnosis was,” McKee said. “It was almost a little bit of a relief that everything was torn because we knew we couldn’t hurt her worse.”
A silver lining to an unfortunate injury
“Her doctor told her she had done all the damage that she could do, so if she could tolerate the pain she could compete,” Cranney said. “Azlyn and her parents made the decision.”
For Gillette, it wasn’t a hard decision to make.
“I worked all year for this,” she said. “It’s my senior year and I love cheering. I didn’t want to sit out.”
Some accommodations were made. Gillette was removed from the pom routine because the pressure was too great on her knee, but she still performed in sideline, show, and served as the flyer for her stunt group.
A flyer is the cheerleader thrown into the air and caught by teammates. It’s a position Gillette has held since her freshman year.
When the awards were announced at the State Cheer Championships, Gillette and her coaches could not believe what they were hearing:
“Sideline cheer, first place – Oakley High School.”
“Show Cheer Coed, first place – Oakley High School.”
“Stunt Coed, first place – Oakley High School.”
“Pom, first place – Oakley High School.”
“Overall State Champions, first place – Oakley High School.”
The team had swept the competition in every category they entered, a milestone they had yet to accomplish despite claiming the state title in the prior two tournaments.
Although if you asked the coaches, they’d say Gillette is a four-time state champion.
Last year, three days before the state tournament, COVID-19 closures shut everything down.
It was Gillette’s junior year, and what could have been her third consecutive state title, something her coaches were confident the team would have won.
Since her freshman year, Gillette always dreamed of being a four-time state champ. Now she’ll never know what could have been.
“It still feels like unfinished business, for Azlyn and that group of seniors,” coach Cranney said.
That just makes their latest win all the more meaningful for the team.
“This year, winning state was two years in the making,” Cranney said. “It was two years of hard work for that one moment.”
Cranney and McKee fondly remember their first day with Gillette. They recall a shy and timid girl, unaware of her own greatness. According to them, much has changed over the past four years.
“To see her grow from being this freshman that was so unsure of herself… to then become this leader who the kids look up to, it’s like she’s not even the same person,” McKee said.
And the coaches believe they’ve only scratched the surface of Gillette’s talent.
“I’m not sure that even now she realizes her greatness and her ability,” Cranney said.
After graduating as valedictorian of her class, Gillette plans to attend Brigham Young University, where she is considering a degree in nutritional science.
The injury to her knee still requires surgery. How long the healing process takes will determine whether or not she cheers in college, but she is planning on trying out for the team.
Gillette is not yet sure what her plans are after college, but she would like to keep the sport of cheer in her life.
“I could see myself coaching in the future,” she said.
McKee and Cranney are sad to see Gillette go, but wish her the best in her future endeavors. As an instrumental member of the team for four years, her departure will affect everyone from teammates to coaches.