By Colleen Rushnak
Ranking at the top of the collegiate cheerleading world requires ruthless practice, intense athleticism and unwavering dedication. These athletes push themselves to the extreme to perform complex stunts, and the College’s cheer team is no exception.
The team took home the gold in the 2020 UCA National Championship, ultimately winning by a margin of six points in the open all-girl division. The competition unfolded from Jan. 17 to 19 in Orlando, Fla.
The team holds year-round practices in preparation for the competition. During summer break, the athletes practice one to two times each month before a week-long camp in August, which kicks off the season. During the fall semester, practice is three to four times each week, and each training focuses on weight lifting, conditioning or tumbling.
Over winter break, the team ramps things up with a twice-a-day practice schedule until they head to Orlando.
“When you are going for a back-to-back championship, you not only need to beat everyone in your division, but you need to beat yourselves,” said Karlie Lombardi, a senior member of the College’s cheer team. “You need to be better than you were last year. The judges are expecting great things from a winning program, and it takes a lot to impress them a second time, so we needed to show them why we were champions and why we still are.”
The practices consist of a stretch and dynamic warmup and then move into standing and running tumbling.The team then starts working on partner stunts in small groups of four and typically end practice with basket or pyramid stunts. Once nationals approach, they are focused on preparing the routine. The cheerleaders run pieces of the routine to get their bodies in shape until they start running full outs, which is a run of the full routine with no modifications.
The team returned to Orlando this year as the reigning champions of the 2019 UCA National Championships.
“The emotions that come over you are almost indescribable,” Lombardi said. “It’s complete joy and relief, it’s pride and excitement, and the feeling of knowing all of your hard work has finally paid off. You know at that moment that all time, all the frustration and all the pain was worth every second.”
Following the championship, the team has been busy cheering at basketball games, while holding a few practices a week to stay in shape and get ready for upcoming college prep clinics and tryouts.
The quiet part of the season sets the tone for their next chapter — the teammates work on gaining new skills, perfecting old ones and recruiting new members.
Cheerleading as a sport is making a splash in the media following the hit Netflix docuseries “Cheer,” chronicling the elite Navarro College cheer team, located in Corsicana, Texas, as it prepares for the NCA National Championship. As the stigma around cheerleading is dismantled, these athletes are becoming increasingly recognized for the physically demanding sport.