Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) anxiously dreams about her first day of senior year. Her boyfriend, Aaron (Richard Hillman), has left for college, and her cheerleading squad, the Toros, is aiming for a sixth consecutive national title. Team captain, "Big Red" (Lindsay Sloane), is graduating and Torrance is elected to take her place.
Shortly after her election, however, a team member is injured and can no longer compete. Torrance replaces her with Missy Pantone (Eliza Dushku), an ill-tempered tomboy gymnast who recently transferred to the school with her twin brother, Cliff (Jesse Bradford). Torrance and Cliff develop a flirtatious friendship. After watching the Toros practice, Missy realizes the squad has been copying routines from a rival team that her previous high school competed against. She drives Torrance to Los Angeles, where they watch the East Compton Clovers perform routines that are virtually identical to their own team's. Isis (Gabrielle Union), the Clovers' team captain, angrily confronts the two. Torrance learns that "Big Red" regularly attended the Clovers' practices to videotape and steal their routines.
Isis informs Torrance of her plans to defeat the Toros at the regional and national championships, which the team has never attended due to their economic hardship. When Torrance tells the Toros about the routines, the team still votes in favor of using the current routine to win; Torrance reluctantly agrees. At the Toros' next home game, Isis and her teammates show up and perform the Toro's routine in front of the whole school, humiliating them.
The Toros realize that they have no choice but to learn a different routine. In desperation, they employ a professional choreographer named Sparky Polastri, which was suggested by Torrance's boyfriend, Aaron. At the Regionals, the team set to play before the Toros performs the exact routine they had been practicing. The Toros have no choice but to perform the very same routine. After the debacle that ensues, Torrance speaks to a competition official and is told the routine was given to several other teams in California. As the defending champions, the Toros are nevertheless granted their place at Finals, but Torrance is warned that a new routine will be expected. Torrance, crushed by her failure to lead the team successfully, considers quitting.
Cliff encourages and supports her, intensifying their growing attraction. Aaron, however, suggests that she is not leadership material and recommends that she step down from her position. When Cliff sees Torrance and Aaron together, he angrily severs his friendship with Torrance. Although distressed, Torrance's confidence is renewed by Cliff's encouragement and she convinces her unhappy team to create an innovative, new routine instead. She breaks up with Aaron, realizing his infidelity and inability to be supportive, but Cliff still refuses to forgive her.
Meanwhile, the Clovers are initially unable to compete at Nationals due to financial problems. This prompts Torrance to get her dad's company to sponsor the Clovers, but Isis rejects the money and gets her team to Nationals by appealing to a talk show host who grew up in their area.
In the finals, the Toros take second place, while the Clovers win. However, at the end of the movie, Torrance and Isis find some respect in each other and Cliff and Torrance share a romantic kiss.