Jan. 25, 2013
The Purdue University cheerleading squad accomplished a huge goal last weekend by advancing to the final round at UCA college nationals and subsequently placing 10th. The opportunity to do the routine a second time has been the goal since this whole process began.
"From Day 1, the main goal of this team was to make finals," said Coach Steve Solberg. "It's not fun watching finals when you know you have a routine to get you there, and that unfortunately happened to us last year. We were going to do everything we could to make sure that didn't happen this year."
The past two years, Purdue has competed in the 1A large co-ed division. This division consists of powerhouse teams like Alabama, Central Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. However, this year Purdue changed divisions and competed in Division 1 small co-ed. While this wasn't the easiest decision to make, it was a decision that made the most sense for the program.
"In 1A, we are competing against teams who give their cheerleaders full scholarships," Solberg said. "While we know we could go there and do all right, it's a division where we would never be consistently competitive because of that huge disadvantage.
In Division 1 small co-ed, many of the teams aren't scholarship teams and are programs that have a large co-ed and all-girl teams for games and then combine them for competition. These schools are structured very similarly like us.
My coaching staff and I figured that going into this division made the most sense from a competitive standpoint."
So after making the decision to change divisions, the process of selecting the team started in late-September during the football bye week. A little earlier than normal, but because of the early bye week, we knew this was the only open weekend to get choreography done.
We once again brought in Mark Coleman to help with choreography and our music and also Nicole Latham came and choreographed the dance and helped throughout the season with nationals practices. Having a diverse coaching staff to help with this year's team was really beneficial when it came to the type of routine that was created and developed.
The national's team practiced once a week until school ended, which then began the everyday practice schedule through Christmas break which had two breaks (one for Christmas and one for the bowl game). After the bowl game, the team practiced or had a performance every day until departing Jan. 17 to head to Disney World, where the competition was held.
On Jan. 19, the team competed at 10:20 a.m. in the semifinal round and had a decent routine. A few mistakes, but overall a clean and good performance. Then all they could do was wait.
The team went back to the hotel to rest, hoping they made finals, as Solberg and Coleman waited to see if the team had advanced. Four teams were announced and then the announcer said, "BOILER UP! ... PURDUE UNIVERSITY!" and we officially knew we had advanced to finals!
"To say we were excited would be an understatement," Coleman said. "Once we made finals, we knew we were in the show and were going to be competitive."
"Steve sent out the text message and all I could hear was screaming," Latham said. "They got the text before me, so I figured that it was screams of joy!"
Out of the 25 teams in the division (the largest division at nationals this year), only 12 advanced to finals. We drew No. 9, which is a great draw out of 12 teams. The team came back to the HP Field House and warmed up and did it again.
The finals performance was another good, clean performance, but again had a couple of mistakes. Even with those mistakes, the Boilermakers were able to place 10th and take top 10 in the largest and most competitive division at nationals. The goal of making finals and being competitive was completed. This was a great stepping stone for the future of Boilermaker cheerleading.
"Our team faced much adversity this year on the road to nationals, but we had many individuals step out of their comfort zones and prove that they could help the team accomplish its goal of making finals and placing in the top 10," said Kevin Funk, third-year member of the squad. "I'm very proud to have been a part of this step in the right direction for Purdue Cheerleading."
While sometimes the athletes wonder why they put themselves through this process as it can be very time consuming and can take a huge toll on them mentally and physically, it's the end result that reminds them of why the whole process is worthwhile.
"Nationals takes a lot of time and commitment, but in the end it is worth it," said Mallory Toombs, freshman on the squad. "All the hard work you put in shows when you're on the floor. I really enjoyed nationals this year! It was a lot of fun especially when we all came together at the right time and performed a good routine."
It's crazy to believe all of this hard work, time and commitment is put in for hopefully five minutes of mat time, but it's what we do and what we love to do. The journey to nationals is always hard, but it's the journey that defines a team.
"We had finally made it to our destination after a long fought journey and reached our goal after four months of preparation," said Clint Shireman, third-year member of the team. "For me, it's been 365 days to rebuild what we had left on the mat at nationals in 2012 and leave Orlando in 2013 with no regrets. The sacrifice and commitment makes the moment surreal. As a team, we came together in the last few weeks overcoming injury and diversity, and did what we had to do to be 10th in the nation. I, along with the rest of the nationals squad, believe that Purdue has what it takes to go to Orlando and make some noise in future years."
This is a Purdue cheerleading squad that defines what it means to be a Boilermaker: hard-working individuals.