Rowan cheerleading finishes fifth at the UCA College Cheerleading Team National Championship

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Rowan’s cheerleading team at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex competing in the UCA Cheerleading & Dance National Championship. - Photo via Rowan Cheerleading

Rowan’s cheerleading team finished fifth in the nation after participating in the Open All Girls Finals 2024 Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) College Cheerleading Team National Championship. They competed twice on Jan. 13, on stage at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort. Cheerleading teams from all around the United States showcased their routines with a heavy focus on tumbling and stunting. 

Leading up to the championship, the team prepared by practicing at the beginning of the school year twice a week until October, which then switched to three times a week. Following fall semester finals, they practiced every day excluding holidays at the Rowan Rec Center for six to seven hours. A national practice began with dynamic stretching, a lap around the gym and tumbling, then warm-ups for partner stunts, and a transition into the pyramid. 

“We practice a lot as if we were at nationals; so we warm up, walk around, take a walk, have an encouraging chant, hold hands, and pray,” explained senior public health major and cheer team member Kennedy Polk. “Then we go and perform as if we were at nationals and that’s usually what practice would look like, we just drill it a hundred times over and over again.” 

The team’s coach Laureen Carney and her staff choreographed the national routine without an outside choreographer. This ensured that her team could learn in pieces and sections within a few months over time. They began with learning new stunts, then moved to the pyramid and the cheer. The stunts they learned included hand-in-hand, where the flyers are placed in a handstand position and the bases pop them up and catch them in an extension. 

“I think my enjoyment is that I just love cheerleading. I always have, and I really enjoy watching the girls grow throughout the season,” Carney said. “I think that’s something that’s really rewarding as a coach because all I can really do is show them how to do the things, and then I have to kind of let go once we get to nationals.”

Following the practices leading up to nationals, the team showcased the routine to family members at a send-off and then proceeded to fly down to Florida on Jan. 11. A team dinner was held on the night of arrival and the squad began practicing the next day, nearly all day long. They prepared for competition working on the routines pyramid, stunting and tumbling on the turf of the fields at the resort. 

“I feel really confident just because I’m so used to that feeling of hearing people screaming before going on the mat and being prepared to hear the music right in your face loud, and the lights are so bright,” said senior wellness management major and cheer captain Alyson Martinez. “It felt really good to be out there and to make it to finals. It felt very rewarding and it was a good way to end it.” 

At the beginning of the routine, stunts featuring the flyers spinning with one leg were showcased as well as Superman cheer stunts. The UCA score sheet focuses heavily on stunting, and execution is weighed at about 30 points. To work on elite skill building, a UCA coach came in and helped with cleaning up the national choreography. The team made sure to focus on keeping the routine clean with a large focus on stunting skills. 

“Most of our score comes from execution, so it’s less of the difficulty of the skills, although you still need that significantly to place well,” said sophomore mechanical engineering major and cheer team member Ashley Yost. “It’s also a lot of people doing the same skills as you, so you have to perform them better and with better technique than everyone else.”

The team dealt with hardships this season with members suffering from injuries and being replaced with alternates. However, the squad of nearly 20 girls continued to work together to showcase the hard work they put in leading up to nationals. Carney originally had 23 members at her disposal, but by nationals 18 competed while one alternate traveled with the team. 

“I was one of the people where my stunt group had to be changed last minute, we plugged it right in and we felt really good. Personally, in every stunt and every pyramid I was in I felt very confident,” Martinez said. 

Multiple tumbling passes were thrown across the mat, including six to seven standing tucks and two fulls. Every year, the national routine tumbling passes change depending on the amount of tumblers on the team. It is the tumbler’s job to maintain the skills they tried out with and the routine made sure to showcase the member’s high-level tumbling skills. 

“We had a group of people tumble and they did some fulls, standing tucks, round-off backhandspring tucks, but if you’re not a tumbler, you’re just in the back doing additional stunts to help your score,” Yost said. 

On the day of nationals, the semi-finals began in the middle of the day, and after competing the team waited for finals to be announced. They then received the news that they made it to finals and were given a time slot to compete again. After waiting for the competition division to finish, the team received fifth place with a score of 70.2. Carney’s group has consistently made it to finals seven years in a row and plans to grow the club next season. 

“It’s good knowing you have a team of girls that you’ve worked so hard with the entire season that have your back,” said Polk. “You know you can be really nervous, and you look to the side of you and it’s a teammate standing next to you telling you you got it. Everyone is very encouraging and it just builds confidence in the team.”

Rowan Cheerleading is currently holding open practices throughout the month of February at the Rowan Rec Center every Wednesday at 7 p.m. An upcoming cheer clinic will also be hosted on March 10, and tryouts will be held on April 20. Throughout the next month, all those interested in joining the team can check their Instagram page @rowan_cheer to keep an eye on when they post the times of clinics and tryouts.

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