SFA Spirit Teams competed in the National Dance Alliance and National Cheerleaders Association National Championships in early April and won several awards, all in the first or second places.
At the competition at the Ocean Center in Daytona, Florida, the dance team won second place in Division 1 Team Performance and first place in Division 1 Pom, winning that first place title for the fourth year in a row. The cheer team also won second in both Division 1 Small Coed Cheer and Division 1 All-Girl Cheer.
“I feel so excited and proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Flyer and tumbler on the All-Girl cheer team Natalie King, junior psychology major from Austin, said. “Having COVID this year, definitely put in a few obstacles on us. We were grateful to have been able to place in that spot. Both [Coed and All Girl teams] put on our best and our best routines. I’m proud of where we are and our placement.”
The day of competition, according to dance co-captain and senior biology major from Edinburg, Kenedie Casares, was all dedication to “doing what we had to do.”
“We just stayed focused as a team,” Casares said. “We walked straight to what we had to do. [We had] backstage jitters, full-on jitters, and butterflies. But, we were all really focused on getting our job done.”
Before each competition, Casares said they partake in certain rituals, including praying, chants and, this time, everyone “eating purple Pixy Stix.”
“After Pom, I felt it,” Casares said. “After Team Performance, I really felt it, and everyone came off the stage crying because we were so excited. We just felt it, and people watching said they felt it, which is interesting. It was like a give and take of just energy from the crowd and within one another on the stage. It was really awesome for me to finally feel that.”
Everyone “could just feel” the tenseness between the team during the virtual award ceremony, said Casares.
“We were all just sitting there hand-in-hand, listening for when we got called for our placement,” Casares said. “They said second place, and it wasn’t us. Then, they finally said, ‘Stephen F. Austin State University,’ and tears just rolling down everyone’s eyes, screams, hugs and embraces of one another because all of our hard work that we’ve done from summer until now finally paid off.”
Preparation for finals begins “from day one,” according to Coach T.J. Maple, coordinator of spirit programs for the past 16 seasons.
“As soon as our teams are picked, we are constantly preparing, creating the different skill sets we want in the routines, practicing those skill sets, choreography [and more] throughout the whole season,” Maple said. “Everything sort of comes to a head at the end.”
This was the first time in Maple’s career to have won four in a row in the same division in the dance competition.
“In 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996, SFA was able to win four in a row on the dance side,” Maple said. “But, I had personally not experienced [winning there] in the same division. We’ve won four years in a row but in [different divisions]; but this being in the same division four years in a row, we have dominated.”
King said there are certain categories that “divide dance from cheer,” like the way they are separated for competition, but “being there together made everything worth it.”
“Although we competed on the mat as two different teams, it felt like we were just one huge family,” King said.