Utah Valley University’s cheer team won the title of national champions at the National Cheerleaders Association’s 2021 Championship on April 9. The team traveled to Daytona Beach, Florida, to compete in the iconic oceanside bandshell, where they earned the national title in the Advanced All-Girl Division I category.
“Watching their faces once the music ended was priceless,” said Emily Vowles, cheer coach for UVU. “This team is extremely talented, but remained humble throughout the competition, and I think that really helped them take the win. At the end of day two, they knew that they had given it their all and had hit a nearly perfect routine.”
This was the first year that UVU competed in this division. In the past, UVU cheer competed in the Advanced Small Coed Division, but made the switch this year to fill a void, as there are currently no other Utah colleges that compete in any Advanced All-Girl divisions. The switch is hard for schools to make since without male cheerleaders, female athletes are throwing and catching girls the same size as they are.
“There are so many talented female cheerleaders that stop cheering once they graduate from high school because they don’t fit the coed stunting criteria,” Vowles said. “We wanted to attract some of those talented athletes by giving them a place where they could continue cheering at the collegiate level.”
This win was a big comeback after last year’s competition was canceled, and there was concern it would be canceled again this year. Not only was this the first year the team competed in the Advanced All-Girl Division I category, but it also is a cheer team comprised predominately of first-year student-athletes. Of the 28 team members, 23 are freshmen. This was their competitive collegiate cheer debut, and their stage was a tricky outdoor venue open to the elements of sun and sea wind. But they didn’t let their nerves outshine their excitement.
“Getting to compete on the floor of the biggest college competition was a dream come true,” said Quin Bevington-Clark, captain of the UVU cheer team.
While the payoff was sweet, the journey to get to the mat was filled with multiple and unexpected physical setbacks.
“With COVID-19, this year has been very challenging,” said Vowles. “We had a serious ankle injury four weeks before nationals, two team members tested positive (for COVID-19) two weeks before we left to compete, and another cheerleader tested positive and had to be replaced by a cheerleader who had never done her skills before. It was stressful, but it forced the team to rise up and perfect their skills and learn to encourage and trust each other.”
The UVU cheer team ended the prelims in first place and moved on to finals in a strong position. Their routine was 2 minutes and 15 seconds. In that short time period, teams are judged on difficulty and technique in tumbling, stunting, jumps, pyramids and collegiate image, so the routines are fast-paced and high energy. It’s a physically demanding and emotionally draining routine, but UVU cheer kept their focus on the national title and trophy payoff.
“It was very emotional when the final rankings were announced because getting there was such a long road,” Vowles said. “Even when you give it your all, you don’t always end up on top, but when you do, it feels pretty awesome.”
Bevington-Clark “was absolutely in shock” when the scores were announced at the end of day two. “It was the best feeling in the world. This season I’ve fallen in love with this sport all over again, and ending my cheer career on this win is something I’ll never forget.”