By: Madison Zaleski '21
The University of Mount Union cheerleading team recently scored a spot in the finals at the Universal Dance and Cheerleading Association (UDA/UCA) National Competition. The entire Spirit Squad spent a few days in the sun as they traveled south to Orlando, Florida for their first ever appearance at the nationally ranked competition.
Both teams have worked incredibly hard, both at practice and in the classroom, to qualify and give their programs an opportunity to represent the University at such an advanced level. This experience was new for everyone as they were exposed to schools of all sizes and multiple degrees of talent.
Brandy Vandegrift is a coach for the University’s dance team, overseen by the Spirit Squad Advisor, Jill Grove. Vandegrift had realistic expectations for the team going into the trip.
“My expectations were simple, walk off of that stage and be proud of how far you have come,” Vandegrift said. “With this being our first year competing at such a high level we are not only setting standards for ourselves but we are creating a legacy for the University and for future teams.”
Coaches were hopeful that the squad members would gain valuable experiences from the competition and the girls’ responses proved nothing less.
“This experience has been really eye-opening, and it has shown me just how much not only I can grow, but also how much the team and program can grow as a whole,” said Julie Fioritto ’21, an athletic training major of Westlake, Ohio. “To get to see other people perform gave us a lot of ideas and will push us to do even more for next year.”
“The most memorable part of my trip was being able to bond with each team member,” said Kaylee Ferguson ’23, of Canton, Ohio. “Making us feel even closer as a dance family.”
The Cheerleading Team also enjoyed their time in Florida as well as their time with each other, as emphasized in their responses.
“It was such an amazing experience as a whole,” said Alissa Loving ’22, a psychology major of Northwood, Ohio. “I love how we got to represent our school and I couldn’t have imagined doing it with anyone else.”
“Although there were many memories from this trip, my favorite was making finals during our first time there,” said Tori Waddell ’20, a psychology major of Willoughby, Ohio. “Also, I enjoyed being able to spend one of my last cheerleading experiences with some of my best friends on and off the mat.”
It can be challenging balancing schoolwork with extra-curricular activities at the college level. The girls were required to miss a few days of class to travel and compete. However, the University prides itself in creating responsible citizens and part of that is being responsible in the classroom. When asked about coaching student-athletes, Vandegrift responded proudly.
“I take great pride in having the opportunity to coach student-athletes,” Vandegrift said. “Each member on this team is here first for academics, and we stress its importance every week. We, as a team, are also here to support the University as a whole, show leadership, and give back to the community. It is such a joy to see each student grow inside and outside of the practice room.”
The Cheer Team’s Gameday routine placed 13th out of 25 teams in the final round of the competition and the Dance Team is excited to work towards re-qualifying and placing in the years to come!
The UCA/UDA Competition is already in sight for next year as the teams continue to work and grow with one another to become the best that they can be.
“It was amazing being able to do this with the people that have been working by my side for years now and sharing the accomplishment of making history for our program,” said Taylor Mitchell ’20, a marketing major of Avon, Ohio. “I can't wait to see how much Mount Union cheer grows within the next couple of years!"
Learn more about Competitive Cheer and Dance at Mount Union.