WHITEHALL — Hart’s cheer team closed every round last year by yelling the motto that coach Jen Hlady gave to this season: “Back to Back”.

The Pirates did nothing Wednesday to hurt their chances of reaching that goal of repeating as West Michigan Conference champion, delivering a solid round three performance to erase an early 26.5-point deficit and take first place in the first jamboree of the season. Their final score of 627.5 topped runner-up Whitehall, which had 599.9 points. Shelby took third place, with a total of 567.86.

To comply with MHSAA precautions limiting cheer events to four teams at one site at one time (similarly to precautions in place for wrestling), the event was split into two sessions, with three league teams competing at each one. The Pirates were paired with their top competition, Whitehall, and fell behind early, but were never fazed.

Hlady said it wasn’t a surprise that Whitehall moved ahead early, as the degree of difficulty scores for their early rounds are higher than Hart’s. The key round for the Pirates was round one, which saw them trail by just a half-point to Whitehall — but Hlady said the team will need to be even better than that.

“We can’t let ourselves be underneath them in round one,” Hlady said. “Our focus this week is going to be getting after what we need to in round one to close that gap, trying to get ahead, and also fine-tuning what we do in our skills in round two to close that gap even further, so we don’t have a 27-point deficit going into round three.”

Although Hart’s third-round score of 257.8 points — which bettered Whitehall’s by a full 54.5 points — wasn’t much higher than its score in the same round at the season-opening Breckenridge meet, Hlady said the team was far better this time around.

“We didn’t hit hardly anything at Breckenridge on Saturday,” Hlady said. “We came out with the same round three (tonight) and the girls executed. They did exactly what we were working on. We’ve worked them since Saturday, trying to get those execution points. The score remained the same, but they looked night and day (different) from what we were doing on Saturday.”

The Pirates’ early showings have been all the more impressive considering the team’s inexperience. Last year’s team was senior-heavy, and Hart is very young now. Hlady said only one upperclassman takes the mat combined in the first two rounds for Hart, as they stand now. Her young girls, she said, saw something click Wednesday that hadn’t been there previously.

“Their bodies, their skill level are at the varsity level, but we just have to keep their head,” Hlady said. “Just today, it really set in to them...I think I’ll see an even greater result from them next week.”

The Tigers had a solid round one of 193 points, just a few behind Hart and Whitehall, but their round two score of 162.46 let them far behind the top two teams. Round three saw a 212.4-point score, better than Whitehall’s but short of Mason County Central’s; the Spartans finished fourth Wednesday.