After Top-Ten Finish, Penn State Cheerleading Is Back on the Rise
Perhaps the most competitive and prestigious cheerleading competition in the nation, the UCA College Cheerleading National Championship took place from Jan. 16-18 outside Orlando, Fla., filled with teams from all over the country vying for a chance to be crowned the best in the nation.
Of the 14 teams in the finals bracket, Penn State fell short of capturing a national title, but earned itself the No. 10 spot. Although it finished towards the lower end of the competition, its top-10 finish serves as both a benchmark for future Nittany Lion cheerleading teams and as a reminder of its past success.
Curtis White, the Nittany Lions’ competitive cheer head coach, won his first national championship in 1997, his first year at Penn State. A veteran in the field of competitive cheer, he added another national title shortly after, and has made multiple finals appearances along the way. But recent changes in the athletic department have plagued Penn State and hindered its effort of maintaining the competitive advantage it once had.
“We have had a dry spell in recent history. In our past two trips to nationals, we were the first team out of making the finals,” White said. “This year the program was restructured back to the way it was when we were placing high at nationals.”
Penn State’s all-girl competitive cheerleading team took the mat twice in Disney World to perform a routine that consisted of challenging stunts and elaborate choreography that was unmatched to Penn State’s teams in the past. After the first routine, the Nittany Lions advanced past the semifinals and earned themselves an opportunity to be crowned national champions.
Amongst the other schools in the competition, Penn State was at a slight disadvantage, as southern schools such as Alabama, Western Kentucky, and the University of Central Florida offer large scholarships to its competitive cheer athletes. Although Penn State fell behind these teams, it still managed to earn a higher score than Big Ten schools Ohio State, Rutgers, and Minnesota. The only Big Ten team that placed higher than Penn State was Indiana.
White attributed many factors to his team’s success.
“The students seemed to be very focused and had more confidence,” he said. “Going to practice felt different. It wasn’t just the coaching staff critiquing but the team members all held each other accountable. The team itself had concrete goals they wanted to reach, so we really pushed our limits.”
Unfortunately, the co-ed competitive cheerleading team did not put on as stellar a performance as the all-girl team, but still posted a finals placement at No. 14 in the nation.
Although the team failed to reach its goal of winning a college cheerleading championship, the success of this year’s team is a strong indicator that the future looks bright for Penn State’s competitive cheer teams.
“Next year, the team’s talent looks to be even better,” he said. “We are losing very few seniors to graduation, so the items are in place for us to have continued and greater success in the future.”