BENNINGTON -- For Caitlyn Burke, the weight of the moment doesn't sink in until the music starts.
"I never get nervous until the second before the music starts," the senior said. "It don't really realize its real until it is time."
When the music does hit the speakers, Burke and the rest of the Mount Anthony Union High School cheerleading team get three minutes to state their case for a panel of judges and compete for a title.
Months of two-hour practices, six times a week, boiled down into 180 seconds.
"We have three minutes to prove ourselves," said fellow senior Emily Stadnik. "Three minutes of non-stop [action]."
"We don't get a second chance," Emily Held, the third senior on the team, interjected.
"If we lost [points in] one thing, it decreases our chances by a lot," said Burke to round out the thought.
But such is life for the group.
The team will take its routine to Vergennes on Saturday for the 2014 State competition, moving up to the large team division after winning the 2013 State title in the small school category.
"Now we compete against powerhouses," coach Tiffany Hall said. "I think it is a good challenge for us."
While cheerleading is not the most commonly recognized sport offered at MAU, the cheerleaders are more than pom-poms and "rah-rah" -- they are a group of athletes competing for a prize.
"Come to our practice and try lifting girls over [your] head, see how hard it is," said Stadnik.
"If those 90-pound girls don't lift their weight, it gets a lot harder than you think," Burke added. "You have to have stamina, you can't just show up and hope it comes to you."
The group are more than just a team. Describing their process to get a routine to click, Burke highlighted the importance of a real friendship off the mat that helps aid the team.
"You need to trust everyone to do what they need to do," Burke said. "You need to be friends first. A team has to be able to get along to connect with each other."
It's a bond that Hall has been working on since she took over as coach last year. So far, the results have come. But Hall is also taking a realistic approach to the team's jump up a division.
"I think that if they perform as well as they can there is a potential we could take third," Hall said. "That is what I'm hoping for. But for us, the experience of states is more important than placing. Just knowing they go and put it all out on the mat when they are there."
The team, though, has started to earn its way into competing with the best in the state. While the team admits a lack of strong gymnastics that teams like Essex and Rutland have, the Patriots have seen steady gains over the last two seasons.
Last year's run ended with the state title. So far this year, the team took second in a competition at the University of Albany -- despite being moved up a division the day of the competition -- and took second at a competition, behind Essex, in Rutland on the first of the month.
"So far, they have had a good season," Hall said. "I think that, all in all, the past two years ... have been pretty good."
Held is one of the three flyers on the team along with freshman Madelyn Minchew and sophomore Erin Crowe. Held said that to get comfortable being thrown into the air you have to have trust.
"People throw me in the air and I just have to try and control my body," she said. "It involves a lot of trust. It's not all them, if I flail in the stunt I'll fall. It requires a lot of trust and body control."
Stadnik and Burke make up part of the base. Three juniors, Kristen Andrews, Alexina Federhen, and Katherine Rose; and four sophomores, Erika Burgess, Micayla Hurley, Jordyn Upright and Cassie McDonald, round out the 11-woman crew with one alternate. On the bottom, Burke said that there is always a nervous feeling about having to catch a teammate.
"Yes, all the time," she said about feeling some nerves. "That nerve is what keeps her from hitting the ground. You don't want to be the one responsible for someone else getting hurt."
For Stadnik, Burke and Held, Saturday gives the trio one last shot to make their mark on the program they have been involved with since they were in seventh grade. It's something that isn't lost on them.
"I want to make sure they think they have a good base to start next year," Held said.
"You want to feel like you are leaving them with the same base as when you were there," Stadnik added.
And as for the routine?
"I think we all feel really good about it, which is important," Stadnik said.
"It's definitely harder than it was last year, but I think it's a pretty good routine," said Held.
Saturday's competition will start at 1 p.m.