Jan. 23, 2014
The Purdue University cheerleading squad took another step forward for the program by advancing to finals for the second year in a row and placing sixth in the country. To place sixth and hit two routines has been the goal since the beginning of the season.
"From the beginning, we thought we had a chance to place near the top 5 if we were smart and catered our routine to what we were capable of doing," coach Steve Solberg said. "Last year was our first year in small co-ed and we made finals, but we never took finals for granted. After we made finals, we knew we could make a few adjustments to our routine to score a little higher and hopefully get us near the top 5, and it worked."
Even though placing sixth was exciting for the team, placement was irrelevant to the athletes and coaches.
"All that matters is doing their absolute best," said Nicole Latham, assistant coach and choreographer. "We wanted to hit two routines at nationals. Not many teams even hit one routine while down there, but we knew we were capable of hitting twice and, when we did that, we knew our ultimate goal was accomplished."
Division I small co-ed is comprised of schools who are all Division I schools for sports and have no more than four males on the competition floor. This division made sense again for the program as it's a division that really promotes the Purdue cheerleading program as a whole.
"It's not just about being competitive, it's about promoting our program," Solberg said. "Competing in small co-ed gives athletes from both our co-ed and all-girl teams an opportunity to come together and compete together. Instead of just one team getting the opportunity to compete, we are able to take athletes from both of our teams and give them the chance to compete and represent Purdue."
The team choreographed the routine in late October, during the football team's open weekend. The squad practiced once a week until finals week and after finals were over, had two-a-day practices until Dec. 23. The team was doing well and hit a couple of routines before an injury to one of their captains, Abby King, took her out of the routine.
"It was a tough loss," Solberg said. "Abby is a great leader and athlete. Most teams wouldn't be able to overcome that kind of loss, but this team faced so much adversity throughout this nationals season, and it seemed as though it only made them stronger."
The team rechoreographed and came back after winter break fresh and renewed. The team once again was doing well until another member of the team got bronchitis and then had a severe allergic reaction to some antibiotics which kept her out for a full week.
"We were definitely stressing out a little bit," Latham said. "The key to being successful at nationals is to get as many reps throwing the routine as possible, and with people out with sickness for so long, half of the team wasn't able to get those reps, but once again this team showed how strong it was and overcame that obstacle."
Once the team got back to full strength, it was able to get a performance during which it did well and had no drops. On Jan. 16, the team had a morning practice, got ready and left for Orlando. The team arrived and Coach Solberg knew they were in a good place.
"I could just tell they were ready to do it," Solberg said. "They were calm, but yet excited. They were ready to show people how hard they worked."
On Friday, the team had a 20-minute mat time where it was able to throw the whole routine and, once again, hit it. Many compliments were given about how well prepared they looked and overall how clean the routine looked. Later that night, the team watched the mascot, partner and group stunt championships and headed back to get some rest.
Saturday was the day for the Boilermakers. After sleeping in for a bit and grabbing an early lunch, the team got ready and took the bus to the ESPN Wide World of Sports, where the competition is held. The team warmed up and looked sharp.
After grabbing some Gatorade and waiting, it was time for the Boilermakers to perform in the semifinals. This round consisted of 21 teams, making Division I small co-ed the largest division at UCA college nationals. This didn't faze or scare the Boilermakers. Purdue went out and threw a great routine with only one small mistake and no drops. It was another hit routine for the team.
"We placed eighth overall in semis," Solberg said. "We were happy to be in finals, but knew we could have performed better. We took the judges notes, made a few minor adjustments and got ready for finals."
In finals, Purdue stepped up its game and hit another routine, this time with more energy, making it the best performance of the year. The team members walked off the mat knowing they had just hit another routine, going 2 for 2, and knew they had just did their absolute best.
At the awards ceremony, teams were being named and when sixth place came up, Purdue's name was announced. Placing sixth is the highest Purdue has ever placed at UCA college nationals, making this such a great accomplishment for a team that had overcome so much adversity.
"For my last nationals season, I could not have asked for a more perfect ending to my cheerleading career," senior captain Chantal Harris said. "After overcoming adversity, my team and I performed one of the best routines Purdue has ever brought to UCA nationals. I couldn't be more proud."
"Competing with Purdue at nationals was definitely one of my favorite cheerleading experiences," freshman Falicia Duncan said. "It was an incredible feeling to be representing my university doing what I love. Words can't describe how much we have accomplished and the adversity this team has overcome. We went down there, hit two amazing routines, and I could not be more proud of my Boilermaker family."
"Nationals was a fantastic experience," junior captain Maddie Hess said. "The work we put in for four months was executed to the best of our ability during the competition. We showed that we are a competitive team by performing and hitting a clean routine."
2014 UCA College Cheerleading Championship
Small Coed Division I
1. Bowling Green State
3. Southeastern Louisiana
7. Central Michigan
8. San Diego State
San Diego State
Bowling Green State