Cheer, dance spirit stands out in national event
By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
The Grand Canyon University dancers snapped up their ponchos, loaded a music box and took their places in a parking lot. A little rain wasn’t going to stop them from practicing their routines last weekend during the 2017 College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships in Orlando, Fla.
“Other schools were looking at us like we were crazy, but it was the most memorable bonding I have ever seen,” said Jacque Genung-Koch, GCU dance team coach.
That spirit was indicative of the performances of both the cheer and dance teams from GCU.
The cheerleaders reached the finals for the fifth time and finished second behind eight-time champion Wilmington University in Division II Small Coed, which includes teams made up of four men and 12 women. The dance team, meanwhile, placed 12th in the Open Hip Hop division and eighth in Open Jazz.
And it wasn’t just where they finished that was notable. It was the way they worked together.
“I say this in the most humble way, but we stand out,” said Emily Stephens, GCU director of spirit programs and cheer coach. “Other teams tell us all of the time that we are so kind and we love each other — and we do. That’s just the difference.”
Genung-Koch said, “How we place is just one moment in the year, but the way my team loves one another and works together is always positive. That’s my favorite part of coaching this dance team. A trophy is a piece of plastic and a piece of wood, but who they are as people is so much more important to me.”
The teams made the trip to Orlando on Thursday after rehearsing one final time at the Lopes Performance Center. Friday, teams had only 20 minutes to practice their routines for competition at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
“Performing in the actual competition space is very tricky,” Genung-Koch said. “While we have the training space at GCU, nothing is the same size as the space we compete on.”
The UCA, billed as the most prestigious college cheerleading championship in the country, gives cheer and dance teams 150 seconds to execute their skills and perform their routines to blood-pumping music.
“It’s hard to describe how much work goes into our routines because it’s nonstop minutes of tumbling, stunting, chanting, yelling — it is physically demanding,” said Emily Stephens,
However, aside from guiding the crowd in cheer, Stephens said cheerleading goes beyond the competition. It also relies on mental, physical, emotional and spiritual toughness and preparation. The team’s theme this year is “Faith be our strength.”
“Along with practicing twice a day every day since September, cheering at the men’s and women’s basketball games, making appearances at soccer games, women’s volleyball and participating in community outreach events, we came together to meditate and read scriptures,” Stephens said. “I think that’s what makes our team unique — we do what we do for the Lord.”
Genung-Koch, meanwhile, expressed her joy in seeing her dancers encourage each other. But the results they achieved last weekend were nice, too.
“Advancing to the finals of college dance is equivalent to the Super Bowl,” Genung-Koch said. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.