Two weeks ago, Greenfield-Central officially named 24-year-old Laken Peal head coach of the Cougars’ cheerleading program. The AP English teacher takes over for Rebekah Cerqua, who helmed the program for three years before deciding to spend more time with her family, Peal said.
After serving as Cerqua’s assistant coach for the past year, Peal was the natural choice to take her place. During the season, she got to know the ins and outs of the team and learned plenty from the veteran coach. However, in the short time since taking over, Peal already has begun to make her mark on the program.
1. GETTING TO KNOW PEAL
Name: Laken Peal
Hometown: Murray, Kentucky
College: University of Kentucky (bachelor’s degree in secondary English education 2012; master’s degree in education 2013)
Job: AP English teacher at Greenfield-Central
Experience: Assistant coach for one year at Greenfield-Central. … Four-year cheerleader at Murray High School, where she helped lead team to three state championships and one national title. … Former tumbling instructor.
Favorite team to cheer for: Kentucky Wildcats. The alumna, who conducted the interview with the Daily Reporter in a UK pullover, said the men’s basketball team is undoubtedly headed toward a perfect 40-0 season. “I already have tickets to the Final Four (in Indianapolis). I just don’t see anybody being able to beat them.”
2. CHANGE OF PACE
After a 10th-place finish at this season’s state preliminaries — short of qualifying for state — Peal said it is her goal to help transform the Cougars squad into annual contenders. With that in mind, she already has begun making changes.
Implementation of two-a-day practices: Injuries took their toll on the Cougars this season, Peal said. She plans to ramp up the conditioning in order to prepare the girls for the grind of a long season.
“I have never seen more ice bags on a team of girls than I did last July. It was just one after another with that team. We will begin conditioning as well as practice in June. We’ll have two-a-day practices just like any other team that wants to be taken seriously.”
Roster expansion: The varsity team will include 15 members instead of 12 as it has in the past. There also now will be a freshman cheer squad made up this year of six girls.
“We had so much talent at tryouts; I saw no reason not to expand the rosters. Having a freshman team will help us build a program. Having those three different teams will help show the girls the difference in competitiveness at each level and what the requirements are for each team.”
3. HELP WANTED
Peal is still searching for JV and freshman coaches to fill out her staff. She said ideal candidates would share her two-pronged vision for the future of the girls and the Cougars program, beginning with making education a priority.
“Academics come first. It sounds cliché, but I believe the girls truly are student-athletes. I will have them involved in study tables, and they will be held accountable for their grades.
“The girls also will be role models. It will be up to them to promote school spirit and engagement in school culture. We will go beyond what is required, which is just to attend football and basketball games. We will be attending more events, making signs, decorating lockers and organizing pep rallies. … My goal is to make cheerleading an inclusive club … that gets the whole school involved in the energy and excitement of sports.”