Mackenzie Murphy of Owls Head has dreamed of being a New England Patriots' cheerleader since the day she picked up her first pom-pom.

While she may not be dancing on the sidelines this September when Tom Brady and the rest of the players take to the gridiron for their first regular-season game, the Midcoast native is much closer than many would think.

The 23-year-old Murphy was invited to try out for the Patriots' cheering squad March 2 and survived the first of three rounds before she was cut at the end of the second round.

Murphy is a 2008 graduate of Rockland District High School and went on to graduate from the University of Maine at Orono with a bachelor's degree in elementary education.

Murphy cheered for the RDHS Tigers all four years in high school and with the UMaine Black Bears all four years in college and was captain of the squad her final two years.

The Black Bears earned top-five finishes in the Small Coed Division I National Cheerleading Association Collegiate Cheerleading Competition during Murphy's four years at UMaine.

Murphy attended the preliminary open tryout for the Patriots on March 2, an event held at the fieldhouse at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

Tryouts are broken into three parts consisting of several different dance routines. Roughly 250 prospective cheerleaders tried out for the team.

Murphy made it through the first round of cuts, where the field was essentially cut in half, but was cut at the end of the second round.

"I had a great experience," she said. "It was a little bit overwhelming at first, but you have to understand that everyone's in the same boat. You might not know people there, but all the other girls there they don't know anyone either."

Those who survived the third round of cuts endured another day or tryouts, which were held Saturday, March 16.

Anyone can try out at the preliminary tryouts, but Murphy received a recommendation form from one of the New England Patriot cheerleaders weeks prior, which "is something you can include in your packet."

Murphy was invited to the audition workshop roughly a month prior to the tryouts, so "I felt a little bit better knowing that I understood what was going to be happening," she said

There are only 24 New England Patriot cheerleaders each year. Last season, only 18 were cheering at games, while the other six were promotional models, said Murphy.

Murphy said it is "completely different" from standard cheerleading, which typically has cheerleaders categorized as bases and flyers. In professional sports, cheerleaders are more like dancers.

"It's hard to compare the two on some levels," she said. "But I'd say the experience I've had cheering at games and performing in front of people definitely helped me."

Murphy recalled the first round of the tryouts.

"They teach you a dance and you're given probably about 10 minutes [to prepare]," she said. "And there is no time to practice or anything like you might think. Then after that everyone lines up according to your numbers and they group us in threes. So three will go in front of the judges. There were three judges, the coach being one of them. They play the music, you do your dance, then the next three go. So you're seeing everyone tryout."

All the cheerleaders then line up as the coach reads aloud the numbers that advance to the next round.

When the coach called Murphy's number 192, she was "shocked."

"I thought I'd messed up a little bit," she said. "I was absolutely shocked, but so excited."

For the second round, the cheerleaders are given 15 to 20 minutes to learn a second, more involved dance before all are lined up again by number.

"It's kind of hard to match up in order at this point because there's so many numbers missing," she said.

Murphy was cut in the second round and left, unceremoniously, along with several other cheerleaders.

"You pack up all your things [and go]," she said. "At that point by the time I'd packed everything up they were already practicing their individual dances for the next round.

"I was obviously upset, because this is something I've wanted to do since I was [little]. I can think back to middle school. I wanted to be able to say that I'd be a Patriots' cheerleader someday, [but] I think it's a lot more work and preparation than people might expect."

The coaching staff encouraged all who were cut to try out again next year. Murphy said she hopes to give it another go.

"I'm not giving up yet," she said. "I'm hoping to be back next year. It's hard because I walked out of the tryout obviously very upset, but very, very excited that I even had the guts to tryout I guess. It wasn't easy. It was very scary at times.

"It's my belief that there's always someone that's going to be better, there's always someone that's going to be worse, so you just have to be yourself."

Courier Publications Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at mhaskell@courierpublicationsllc.com.