Many people associate cheerleading with shaking pom-poms and cheering on other athletic teams, and while that is a huge part of what TCNJ Cheer does, they also do so much more.
The week before the start of the spring semester, the College’s cheer squad competed in the UCA and UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship, coming in first place in their division.
In the UCA National Championship, which takes place every year over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, there are 11 different divisions for just cheerleading. Since the College is a DIII school and TCNJ Cheer is an all-girl team, the squad competed in the Open All-Girl division, which consisted of nine total teams.
“We spend more than half our season devoted to cheering on other TCNJ athletes and trying to create a fun experience for all the fans at football and basketball games, but that isn’t all we do,” senior co-captain Angelica Anas said. “While the football season and basketball season is about supporting other teams, competition is a time when we get to do things for ourselves.”
At the competition, each team competes in semifinals. If a team scores high enough, they will make it to finals, but finals are like an entirely new competition.
“You could have the most amazing performance of your life in semis, but if you can’t do it again in finals it could cost you a national title,” Anas said.
Preparing for the annual competition certainly wasn’t easy, though. During the regular season, the squad would practice approximately seven and a half hours per week. Immediately after finals, however, the squad began practicing about 20 to 22 hours per week, sometimes twice a day.
“We spent all of winter break practicing,” senior co-captain Amanda Nicol said. “We only had five days off. Most people would think we’re crazy, but it’s so worth it. I’ve never really known what a college winter break was like, but I just love keeping busy and having practice.”
The College’s cheer squad has competed in the UCA National Competition in previous years, but until this year, they had never placed above third.
“(Last year) was a heartbreaker,” Anas said. “We were 0.5 points away from first place, so you can see how close the competition was.”
The College’s dance team also competed at the UCA National Competition in the Open Hip-Hop and Open Pom divisions, placing high in both. This was the first year they competed in Pom and they took home sixth place.
“While the school considers us (and the dance team) to be one organization, we are two very different teams that completely support each other,” Nicol said. “During Nationals, we sit right in the front while the other competes, cheering them on.”
Although the main competition is over, the squad’s season certainly isn’t. In the upcoming months, the squad will continue to cheer for men’s and women’s basketball games and will practice every week to prepare for next season. They will also host a clinic for potential new members.
“I’ve met some of my best friends through being on the squad,” Anas said. “We spent so much time with each other over the semester and especially winter break — we’re definitely a family. It’s really great knowing that your teammates always have your back whether we’re at practice or not.”
After the multiple practices and sacrifices the squad had to make, the girls are proud to say the hard work paid off on the biggest possible stage.
“Hearing our name announced as national champions is a moment that will live with me forever. If I could, I would go back and relive this season all over again,” Nicol said. “It was amazing and I am so happy to have spent it with this talented group of girls that have become my family.”