Cheerleading squad competes in national event

The UNA cheerleading team gets the crowd pumped up during the Lions’ homecoming game against North Carolina-Pembroke October 17, 2015. The cheer squad earned a fourth place finish in a national event April 8.

For the first time since 2009, the UNA cheerleading team competed in a national competition, finishing in the top five.

UNA competed with 11 other schools in the National Cheerleaders Association Collegiate Championship Finals in Daytona Beach, Florida, April 8. After knocking off eight other teams on the first day, the Lions brought home a fourth place finish with an 85.50 score.

“A lot of our team has never been on a competition mat before,” said junior Halie Carpenter. “Just the experience going down there was a big experience. It was very overwhelming, and we handled it very well.”

The team competed in the Intermediate All-Girl Division II category, where the University of Central Oklahoma earned first place with 87.30. Alma College finished second with 86.80, and California University of Pennsylvania edged out the Lions in third place with 85.83.

The Lions were happy with a fourth place finish considering it was the first competition in six years, said sophomore Eria Jackson.

“A lot of those teams have competed year after year,” Jackson said. “So us going in for that first year and placing up there with the top teams was really like an accomplishment for us.”

While preparing for the competition, the team cheered for the football and basketball teams during home games. Balancing the sports with learning the competition routine was tough, said junior Alex Annett.

“We focused mainly on the sports teams during August through December,” Annett said. “Then, in January, we learned our routine while we were still focused on basketball. From January to now, it was nonstop.”

For the team’s lone senior, Natalie Flanagan, a lot has changed for the cheer team in the last few years.

“This is the first year out of my four years of being here we actually work out with a strength and conditioning coach,” Flanagan said. “We had a set time to go with him, and that helped a lot. I think that we went in knowing the stronger we got in the weight room, the stronger we would be on the mat.”

In the Aug. 27, 2015, edition of The Flor-Ala, the team’s goal was to combine the competition team with the cheer squad, said UNA cheer coach Kim Bailey. The two were separate entities prior to 2013.

“When I came into UNA athletics with the cheer program, we wanted to bond the two squads,” Bailey said. “With them being separated, the unity wasn’t there. When we brought them together, we wanted to remind them we are a family, and it’s been nothing but a positive experience since bringing them back.”

Flanagan said as a former member of the competition-only team, bringing the teams together was a great idea.

“My sophomore year, when we were separate, I didn’t get to experience every football game and every basketball game,” she said. “Also, I wasn’t able to be part of community events because the cheer team did all of that stuff, while the competition team just focused on competing.

“This year, I was able to be in the community, and I cheered every football game except the ones that were too far to go to and every home basketball game. It was a lot better being able to do that.”