Photo courtesy of Millikin University Cheerleading.
Photo courtesy of Millikin University Cheerleading.

Millikin Cheerleading Competes at NCA National Championship: A Cheerleader’s Perspective

April 27, 2022

For fans of the breakout Netflix docuseries “Cheer,” the rigors of preparing for the National Cheerleading Association Nationals are evident in the strenuous daily practice routines and training sessions featuring world-class athletes and gymnasts. This past month, Millikin University Cheerleading made school history as the first team to compete in the country’s premier collegiate championship in Daytona Beach, FL.

Throughout the duration of this semester, Millikin Cheerleading has worked tirelessly to perfect an intense routine filled with advanced stunts, baskets, pyramids, and tumbling passes, as well as a highly-energized dance component. In total, 12 challenging stunts were included in the routine for the duration of two minutes and 15 seconds, alongside several other key elements of the Intermediate Co-Ed D3 guidelines.

As a current member of the team, I have been endlessly inspired by the remarkable dedication and sportsmanship exhibited by my teammates and coach since joining the team last fall. Cheerleading is the epitome of a team sport; throwing and catching athletes flying over 10 feet into the air requires immense trust from all participating members.

Leading up to the competition, the team’s practice schedule was developed to include double practices three to five times per week, beginning at both 5:30 A.M. and 6:30 P.M. This commitment, however, was ultimately worth the frequent early mornings and late nights of intense preparation.

“It was something we worked really hard for since none of us had the experience of competing in Daytona before,” said freshman Hannah Hayes.

“First twenty-three” is a recent team slogan coined to represent the exceptional 23 athletes who made school history by participating in the championship, said senior Emily Mitchell. Attending nationals in itself was a significant accomplishment for the team, who officially placed 6th in a highly-competitive division.

The close personal bonds amongst teammates is frequently cited as a defining factor in the team’s remarkable growth and skill. “[We are] not just a team, but a family,” said Mitchell.

2022 has become a defining year for Millikin University Cheerleading and Big Blue Athletics, and Head Coach Sarah Rapp is looking forward to continuing to make school history. “Dipping our toes into competing was an amazing experience for our program since we don’t always get the chance to experience things like that,” said Rapp. “I’m excited to keep growing the competition legacy.”

Rapp, who lives over an hour away, commutes to-and-from practices, often leaving home prior to 4:30 A.M. Despite her full schedule of coaching, working full-time, and raising her son, she continues to dedicate herself to the growth of the team, frequently pushing skill boundaries towards advanced D1 capabilities, despite Millikin’s D3 status.

Learning and growing alongside such committed and talented teammates has proven to be one of the most impactful experiences of my collegiate career thus far, and I look forward to furthering the legacy of the Millikin University Cheerleading Team. The remarkable athletes who have made school history at the NCA National Championship are a tremendous example of achievement and dedication for Millikin University.

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