A Triumphant Return
Jan. 17, 2018

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - After years of trying, they finally heard their name called last.

Purdue waited longest during the judges' announcement, declaring it the winner in the Division I small co-ed category at the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships in Orlando, Florida, on Jan. 13.

It was the first-ever national championship for a Purdue spirit team and a moment of redemption for the Boilermakers, who placed second in the competition in 2016 and 2017.

"We knew we had a shot of winning," Purdue head cheer coach Steve Solberg said. "We're just sitting there, and they name one by one, eighth down to first.

"When they announced Ball State second, it kind of just hit me like, holy cow. When they finally announced our name, I just lost it."

Purdue scored 90.2 points of a possible 100 in its finals routine.

"You're definitely able to determine how a routine is going throughout it," said senior Nina Deligio, an environmental and ecological engineering major. "The energy and looks on your teammates' faces during those two minutes and 30 seconds are the main indicators.

"Everyone had put so much of their heart in to our finals routine that even if the outcome was not what we had wanted, I knew that this team would be talked about positively for many years to come."

The Boilermakers have steadily improved with each season under Solberg, who was hired at Purdue in May of 2010.

"When we started in the small co-ed division - our first time going to nationals - we just wanted to make finals," Solberg said. "And we did. Took 10th and it felt like a win."
Purdue placed sixth the following year and fifth in 2015.

"We've learned that any lack of focus can mean the difference between first and second place," said Gunther Balensiefer, a senior civil engineering major. "Words cannot explain the surreal moment of becoming a national champion."

Like many of their athletics counterparts, the cheer squad performed through adversity. One cheerleader channeled her inner-Elijah Sindelar after being cleared to compete with a torn ACL and two male squad members were unable to compete due to occurrences over winter break, forcing the team to switch to alternates just days before the competition.

The spirit squad's success adds an emphasis to the upswing within Purdue Athletics, following the first football bowl victory since 2011 and men's basketball matching its highest AP Poll ranking since the 1987-88 season.

"Everyone from the staff, students, teachers, other athletes: Even Vince Edwards came over to us on Tuesday night and congratulated us while the basketball team was getting hyped in the tunnel before their game," said senior Taylor Scheid. "It’s been insane and we’re so excited that we could bring this championship home for Purdue."

For the national champions of cheerleading, though, it's back to the grind.

"What people don't realize is our season is all year," Solberg said.

Cheerleading practice begins in the summer in preparation for the football season. Basketball follows with nationals falling midstream. Tryouts are held in April and then a new season begins to complete the cycle.

"The commitment and the athleticism - the things these kids put themselves through - there's been such great support for us," Solberg said. "It's been great to finally get that win and get that weight off our shoulders.

"The kids, they feel like rock stars right now. They've earned it."

2018 UCA Cheer and Dance National Championship | Division I Small Coed Finals Results
1.    Purdue
2.    Ball State
3.    UAB
4.    Hofstra
5.    Bowling Green
6.    Arkansas State
7.    Memphis
8.    San Jose State




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