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Blue Hens dance and cheerleading teams win national championships

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Courtesy of @UDBlueHenCheer/Twitter
After months of hard work and practice, the university’s cheerleading and dance teams brought a national championship back to Newark this past January.

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In January of this year, the university’s cheerleading and dance teams became Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) and Universal Dance Association (UDA) national champions. For the cheerleading team, it was their fourth consecutive national title. It was the second consecutive finals appearance for the dance team. 

Both teams started gearing up for their weekend national competition in Florida in December and felt the burden of pressure and expectations early on. 

“We came into this year going for [championship win] number four,” Nina Hindman, a senior and side base captain on the cheerleading team, said. “That’s what we wanted every other year, so there was a lot of pressure going into that.” 

This was the fourth consecutive national title for the cheer team, while the dance team secured their title in their second straight finals appearance.

“It definitely takes a village to get us through it,” Taylor Wadell, senior and captain of the dance team, said. “We have eight hour days and we do miniscule cleaning down to the fingertips. We do a lot of mental and physical prep in the fall to get us ready.” 

Kirby Lynch, the head coach for the All-Girls Cheer Team at the university, understands what it takes to win national championships and made sure that her team was focused on the details of their routines. 

“Cheerleading is different from other sports,” Lynch said. “The judges can sometimes score based off what they like best, so we always try to put stuff together that will be the most exciting and challenge the athletes.” 

Despite the confidence and drive of both teams, the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 impacted some of the athletes following their winter break, just weeks before their championship appearances. 

Amanda Jenkins, a senior on the university’s dance team, was infected with COVID-19 leading up to the nationals weekend.

“Mentally and physically, for me, it was very challenging knowing it’s my last national season ever, and I have to be away from my team for 10 days, which was really hard,” Jenkins said. 

“10 people tested positive on our team, including three of the main seniors and our two captains,” Hindman said. “It was two-and-a-half weeks before we were going to Florida. We did not know what was going to happen. It was mentally taxing for the whole entire team.”

The news of COVID-19 outbreaks among the teams forced coaches and captains to reevaluate their strategies before entering nationals weekend. 

“Our first day back [from winter break], we ended up not having practice and just having team meetings to talk about how we were going to move forward,” Lynch said. 

Lynch noted that there was added pressure for the quarantined athletes to try to remain positive while regularly checking in with the team. 

Risa Snapp, head coach of the university dance team, tested positive for COVID-19 at the same time as some of her other athletes, including Jenkins. 

“Taylor, our captain, really stepped up and helped out,” Snapp said. “We had some alumni and some helpers come in. Somehow we made it work, we make everything work.” 

Wadell was inspired by the support of her teammates in persevering through the health obstacles and leading the dance team to nationals.

“Luckily we have such a strong foundation,” Wadell said. “We would be working until midnight just to make practice run smoothly the next day; we did that for the whole week. It just showed so much how dedicated we were to put in that overtime and continue to push because tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed.” 

As for the actual event, the team members felt they were fully prepared to seize the moment. Julia Anderson, a senior on the dance team, spoke on the team’s preparation and performance. 

“You’ve never been more ready for anything in your entire life,” Anderson said. “Even since freshman year, when you step in that arena, it’s an unreal atmosphere, just these dedicated athletes that you’re surrounded by. We [practice] from ten to six, every day for months, just doing the same thing all for this two minutes on stage.” 

The All-Girl Cheerleading Team’s main base captain Shannon Leahy, a senior at the university, shared a similar sentiment on the poise of the squad.

“So I think we all went in calm, that’s how our team works best, if we stay calm and not get overwhelmed by everything that is happening around us,” Leahy said.

Although the dance team’s win came relatively unexpectedly, Danielle Valinotti, a senior on the team, said that there was unwavering confidence in both their dance routine and competitive spirit.

“We knew right away that the routine that won was going to be competitive, and we were going to execute it as best as we possibly could,” Valinotti said. “We were just very into ourselves. We loved what we were doing, and I think it really showed, and I think that’s why we got the outcome that we did.”

The dance team was passionate about their dance as a whole, which was pivotal in their overall performance.

“I think it makes such a difference when you love what you are performing and you are passionate about the entire package from the costume, the choreography to the vibe of everything,” Valinotti said. 

Nina Hindman also felt supremely confident in the cheerleading team’s routine that led them to take home the victory.

“We knew that we just had to continue proving that our traditions are the best of the best and go out there and just continue to get that Delaware spirit that we always do, and we did,” Hindman said.

Speaking on the future of the team, Snapp credited the senior athletes with instilling a hunger to win in the younger members of the team.

“[The seniors] were the only ones that had been part of a winning experience their freshman year,” Snapp said. “I think that’s when it clicks on: ‘I want [to win] again, and again.’”

Even though the team has some key members graduating, Snapp is excited about the future of the team. 

“I think the future is bright,” Snapp said. “After we won, my phone was blowing up with calls and text messages and all that stuff. I checked my email, and like four people had signed up for auditions, like literally an hour after we won. So I think we’ll be okay in the future.”

As for the cheer team, they, too, believe that their future is in good hands.

“It’s just a really great environment, we are truly a family,” Hindman said. “There’s just such a drive and motivation to be better and get better every single year. I have no doubt, especially in the hands of Coach Kirby and Coach Ryan, that the program will continue to succeed.”

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