By AMANDA SMITH
A week before the national competition, UMW competition cheerleading had lost its only male member to a severe leg injury.
Male cheerleader, Anthony Epps, stated that he was “devastated [he] couldn’t be there for [his] team” but the team understood his recovery was a top priority.
As a result of this unfortunate event, the team was bumped out of the co-ed category and into the all-girl category for what coach Amanda Short had explained as “the first time in about 5 years.” With this, UMW would have to go up against two experienced teams, rival JMU and Shepherd University.
With only three practices left before the competition, the UMW cheerleaders would have to buckle down and redo a whole routine with their newly recruited member, Jaylen Coefield, to learn Anthony’s position. “I felt stressed for sure with a week left until competition because I’d just been put on the team and not everything was hitting yet,” Coefield said. “As competition got closer, everyone became more determined and we got the hang of it.”
At the last practice, all 21 cheerleaders had finally finished and perfected their performance for the competition. Coach Taylor Henderson said that “we finally had it in us to perform a clean routine that could beat JMU.” However, according to Coefield, team members were feeling the pressure. She explained that the team was “determined but worrisome, but all you can ask is that we hit the routine our hardest.” With high hopes, the cheerleaders headed up to Ocean City, Maryland to perform their new routine.
Bright and early on Mar. 23, UMW checked in as a competitor at the Reach the Beach Nationals. For this competition, all teams are to perform a “game day” routine consisting of a crowd cheer and a floor routine (a two and a half minute routine showing their highest skill level in stunting, tumbling, jumps and dance) on day one. After all the teams had competed, the judges would give teams temporary places based on who has the highest scores. These placements would then determine who will perform first on day two.
The team stormed onto the blue mat and took their position. “Coming onto the mat gave me a huge rush of feelings, some butterflies, but also a pure sense of confidence,” said junior team captain Tara Adkins. Beginning their crowd cheer, an enthusiastic audience chanted back the words “blue and white” surging confidence into the cheerleaders as they waited for the deep-toned voiceover of their music to exclaim “Eagle Nation!”
Starting their floor routine strong, the cheerleaders began with a complex opening of the back-tuck baskets to wow the judges. The team was ambitious in their elite stunting category, attempting to hit a high-level stunting skill called the “swedish falls” said Adkins. Performing this stunt, only three out of four stunt groups could complete the skill giving them a deduction for a dropped stunt.
Transitioning into the pyramid, the group shined as they completed a two-tiered shoulder sit flip stunt that would be scored in the top bracket of the section. Completing the routine with a variety of high-skill tumbling and a sass-filled dance, UMW earned a 89.78/100 with one deduction, putting them in second place for day two.
At 7:15 a.m. on Mar. 24, UMW competition cheer performed an “energetic routine where the girls had more confidence than they had ever seen,” said Short, “but we had two stunts fall, whereas day one we only had one.” The judges had awarded UMW with 88.68/100 with two deductions. This score would place UMW as 2nd overall in the all-girl college division with Shepherd as 1st and JMU as 3rd.
“It felt awesome getting second place. If someone would have told us two years ago that we would beat JMU in all-girl at competition, we wouldn’t have believed it. But look at us; such a huge accomplishment,” said Henderson.With pride and all smiles, the cheer team collected their award and exclaimed light-heartedly: “hey, second is the best!” as they posed for their last team picture of the season.