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Area pair chosen as LSU cheerleaders

Gym of Dreams owner Duane Meilstrup said he’s never been prouderof anything than he is of Rachel Montalvo and Hannah King.

The two high school seniors both were selected to LouisianaState University’s cheerleading squad last week. Nationwide, therewere only 16 cheerleaders selected to the squad, which Meilstrupsaid is one of the premiere in the nation.

“They’re always one of the top in the country, usually in thetop five,” he said of the LSU cheerleading squad.

Meilstrup said the honor is one he couldn’t be more excitedabout, especially for two of his star proteges.

“This is a big deal for all of us,” he said. “For me, becauseI’ve been coaching these girls since they were little, since Rachelwas 7 and Hannah was 9. I’ve coached them for most of my adultlife.”

King and Montalvo both made the transition into cheerleadingfrom gymnastics classes they started as young girls. They saidMeilstrup had been as much of a father-figure through the years ashe had been a coach.

“It kinda feels like home here,” said Montalvo.

King agreed.

“It’s basically the same for me,” she said. “I love to be here,because it’s like an extra family. Duane is like another dad tous.”

And Meilstrup said he was glad the girls had stuck with it likethey had, because they both have the talent needed to take it tothe next level.

“They’re good at it,” he said. “When you experience success atsomething, you want to stay with what you’re good at. It’s also atestament to starting into something like gymnastics andcheerleading at a young age.”

Montalvo said she had tried out at Mississippi State and madethe team there too, but that she and King had planned for a whileto try to make the team together at LSU.

“It depended on the cheerleading for me,” she said. “My firstpriority was cheerleading.”

For King, the cheerleading was important, but so was becoming a”Bayou Bengal.”

“I would have gone to LSU anyway,” said King. “I’ve always beenan LSU fan.”

Montalvo, a Brookhaven High School student, and King, who goesto Lawrence County High School, will be roommates when they get toBaton Rouge. They said they’re both undecided about a major.

Montalvo said she’s not really sure, but that some sort ofcriminology appeals to her. King said she’s looking toward somekind of sports medicine.

“I guess I’ll figure it out when I get there, but I’m leaningtoward physical therapy,” King said.

And it all starts a lot sooner than the average person wouldthink, with a two-day practice on May 12-13. Pre-camp starts inmid-July.

“I’m really just excited about cheering in front of 90,000people,” Montalvo said.

Meilstrup said the girls will certainly have a busy schedulewhen they get to school.

“Besides cheering, there will be lots of performances andpromotions,” he said. “With classes, this will be a busy time forthem. And the summer has camps and pre-camps.”

Both girls said they understand their first year will be amatter of learning to schedule their time.

“I know we’ll practice every day,” Montalvo said. “We’ll be busywith practice and workouts, besides classes.”

Meilstrup reminded them they would also possibly be competingfor national cheerleading honors at some point in their time atLSU.

“More than likely they’ll be on the competitive squad fornationals at some point, we’re hoping,” he said.

And with the Tigers being the reigning national champions infootball, Meilstrup said the year ahead would be one that the girlswill never forget.

“It’s a highly competitive squad, and a lot of people want to beon that squad, not just because they’re really good, but becauseLSU is the reigning national champion,” he said. “This is such agreat opportunity for these girls, and I couldn’t be prouder.They’re the best I’ve ever coached.”