By Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
The standing ovation said it all: The Cheer team from Grand Canyon University performed a flawless routine in the Open Co-ed Game Day event at nationals. That effort placed the Lopes in first place heading into the finals, where one slight error produced a runner-up finish, the best in GCU Cheer history.
“I can’t even describe the feeling we had when we went out there the first time; the energy was so palpable, they were so calm and so confident, I knew right away we were on our game,’’ said Emily Stephens, Director of Spirit Programs. “We knew our Game Day would be unique and different; we were the only one with a drum line. When we got a standing ovation, it was like a feeling we’ve never had before.’’
The Cheer team also competed in the small Co-ed Division I event, placing eighth. Both events took place Friday and Saturday in the Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships at Orlando, Fla., conducted by the UCA (Universal Cheer Association) and UDA (Universal Dance Association) at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
As Stephens and associate coach Keegan Hubbard predicted, GCU was able to transfer its incredible pregame and in-game atmosphere from athletic events on campus, especially basketball games, to the stage in Florida.
The mixture of moves with Thunder and music, including the seven-person drum line, under the guidance of Band Director Paul Koch, was unique. It included stunts in the sideline aspect, stunts, basket tosses and pyramids in the timeout and synchronized moves to the invigorating fight song.
“I took the combination of fight song and Purple Pregame Party part and merged it together, ending with one of our guys up in the air waving the flag,’’ Stephens said. “Thunder was in there, too. It was really fun and entertaining. People said they didn’t even know where to watch, there were so many things going on.’’
Of the second, final effort in Game Day, Stephens said, “We had one little mistake, which happens in the finals, so that’s where we landed in second place. At first, it stung a little. But we were so close and with 21 teams competing -- taking home a silver medal is pretty incredible. And we know that everything happens for a reason. It’s like losing on a buzzer-beater shot. We’re already thinking of next year, and we aim to get back next year and claim the title.’’
Stephens noted that it is unusual for the Cheer team, the ultimate supporters of all athletic teams, to be in the competitive role that simultaneously shows a supportive culture.
“We’re always supporting everyone else, so nationals is an opportunity for us to go out and show what we do, to show our athleticism,’’ she said. “Being in a supportive role, that’s our job and we take so much pride in that. So to get to show how well we support the school and how seriously we take that role and then also put it on the national level is very special.’’
All of the rehearsal and strength and conditioning practices, averaging 20 hours per week for the past nine months, came down to a three-minute routine in the Game Day event.
“You have three minutes to do it perfect. The pressure is insane,’’ Stephens said.
The other event, small co-ed Division I, includes a rigorous set of required elements for the first 150 seconds.
“Last year, we had a girl who fell on the basket toss,’’ Stephens said. “We had to stop the routine and go to the hospital. It was scary. To come back this year, our second year in Division I, and to perform so beautifully, a clean routine and to place in the top 10 with eighth place took a lot of fight. And it took a lot of courage. That girl had to work through a lot of mental things and she did an awesome job.’’
“She went out on the mat and absolutely crushed it,’’ said Casey Traut, co-captain of the Cheer team. “It was so cool to see her go out again and to have her parents there and watch her do what she absolutely loves to do. It was awesome because we all went into it with a different mindset and we didn’t think about last year. It was so cool to see such a change in our focus and our motivation. We were a lot more prepared and we felt a lot more prepared going into this year.’’
The senior from Anthem also was thrilled by the runner-up effort in Game Day and the standing ovation of the crowd.
“It was exhilarating, just taking it all in with my team,’’ Traut said. “They are my family, and having drum line there was so special, too. It was thrilling to have the crowd so engaged in what we do best.’’
Traut and the other seniors gathered the team before each performance with a focus message.
“It is about doing no more and no less than what you’ve practiced and what you’ve made permanent in your mind,’’ she said. “So it’s just a lot of focus and relaxed energy.’’
Then they hold hands and she leads a prayer and they all say, ‘All for Him.’
As the business management major with a minor in communications hustled off to her 9 a.m. class on Monday, she summed up the weekend.
“The biggest thing is GCU made a name for ourselves and we really stood out,’’ she said. “We had someone tell us that we started a legacy for this school. This is just the beginning of starting something awesome, and we do it all for the Lord. That’s where all of our strength comes from, representing Christ.’’
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].