For the first time in UMW’s history, the cheer team has qualified for the National Cheerleaders Association and National Dance Alliance College National Championship. The competition will take place April 5-9 in Daytona, Fla., where UMW will be joining 400 other schools and going head-to-head with 17 teams in their division.
“I think we just had a really good drive this year and are getting along well and everyone is willing to learn new skills,” said President Annie Wadovick, a senior accounting major.
In order to qualify, the team trained over the past semester and submitted a video of their stunts and tumbling to the National Cheerleaders Association. On Dec. 23, they found out that they scored a spot in the competition.
Though the team has a total of 17 members who participate in sideline cheering, 13 members are part of the competition team and will be going to Daytona.
Treasurer and senior business administration major Abigail Atkinson attributed the team’s recent success to some new training activities. The team’s practices involve a mixture of conditioning, stunting and tumbling.
“We did a camp day this year which was different which really helped build the stunt group’s connection and chemistry,” said Atkinson. “It was an eight-hour day on a Saturday.”
They plan to hold another camp day before the competition in April.
But this year hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing for the team.
“A few months in, a couple people had opted to leave the team and others were shuffled around in stunt groups, leading to me being put in as a flyer,” said Molly Gilhool, a freshman elementary education major. “It was definitely a nerve-wracking experience, since at that point, I had only flown a stunt a few times. But everyone on the team has been very supportive, and I’ve learned a lot in a very short amount of time.”
The team also had to fundraise more than normal, as it costs about $18,000 to attend nationals.
“We had four fundraisers in the fall which is a lot more than usual because Daytona is more expensive,” said Atkinson. Through golf tournaments and popcorn fundraisers, the team has raised $12,000.
This year, the team also welcomed a new head coach, Sareena Barnes, a 2022 UMW graduate and former UMW cheerleader.
“She kind of shook some things up, which was different,” Atkinson said of Barnes. “She’s very dedicated and has a lot of ideas and finds inspiration videos that we would have never thought of before.”
Because an important part of the sport is building trust between teammates, the team started a new tradition of bigs and littles, which built comradery between the existing and new members.
“We are doing bigs and littles for the first time this year where a senior girl gets to mentor one or two new girls,” said Wadovick. “I definitely think it has brought a lot of people close together and brought them closer quicker, which is great for cheer cause it’s about working with your teammates.”
Members appreciated the focus on team bonding.
“We support each other, trust each other, and do team bonding activities outside of practice,” said Gilhool. “We spend upwards of six hours a week with each other (often more when we have extended practices and games), so that definitely results in a feeling of community.”
Last year, they competed at The Grand National Championship at Virginia Beach and left with the title of Grand Champions.
“I certainly didn’t expect to be going to nationals my freshman year, but here we are,” said Gilhool. “We’ve been pushing ourselves pretty hard recently, and it’s starting to feel real. Qualifying for Daytona at all is huge, and I have no idea what to expect from such a big competition. But we’ve been working really hard and improving every practice, so I have a good feeling about it.”
The team is putting together a send-off showcase on April 2 at 2 p.m. in the Anderson Center. They encourage students to come watch the routine before the team heads off to Nationals.