GCU Cheer team takes home another national title

GCU Cheer team poses after winning a national title in Florida.

Mike Kilen
GCU By News Bureau

The Grand Canyon University Cheer team is becoming a powerhouse -- it won its second consecutive national championship, the Open Coed Game Day division at the 2022 Universal Cheerleaders Association National Championship over the weekend at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

The Lopes' 97.6 points bettered second-place Southeastern Louisiana University (96.03).

GCU won UCA’s Small Coed Division I title last April.

The Lopes won another title at the event: In the first year of competing in the Mascot Skit category, Thunder won for an inventive skit that showed the elated Antelope getting pumped up for the game with music.

Cheer joins the GCU Dance team, which won the Game Day competition three consecutive years before finishing fourth this year, in its national recognition.

GCU is nationally known for creating an electric atmosphere at home games, which was showcased on the very same weekend with an ESPN broadcast of Saturday’s men’s basketball game.

“We always hear the same thing, how well we carry ourselves,” second-year coach Keegan Hubbard said. “A lot of people get cookie cutter, checking off the judges' sheet. For us, we are really trying to expand it and make it something different, with as much energy as we can.

“What we always hear is about our confidence and energy and getting outside the box of that scoresheet.”

Hubbard had a great week for another reason: He and his wife had a baby girl, Porter. He coached remotely via video and credited assistant coach Ashley Aquilina for her work in Florida to help bring home the title.

The Cheer team’s 32 members brought energy into all three phases of the competition, including the fight song, a situational cheer and a timeout, where teams traditionally do stunts and pyramids.

“We did a smaller version of the Purple Pregame Party,” Hubbard said of the minutes before each home game when the Cheer and Dance teams, along with the Thundering Heard Pep Band and Thunder, get the crowd amped up. “The judges really loved that. We even superimposed (public address announcer) Paul Danuser’s voice to get the crowd excited.”

The GCU drumline and Thunder also played a big part in the win.

Cheer members typically practice for four hours, three times a week, not counting workouts to keep them in top shape. They also have numerous campus events and appearances.

"It's a matter of preparation, choreography and really a dedication to the school," Hubbard said.

Spirit Programs Manager Jesi Weeks said the team was laser focused on winning Game Day.

“We are known to create one of the best game day atmospheres in the nation. But we wanted to show we are the best in competition,” she said.

So did Thunder. Other schools' mascots and coaches reached out to her after Thunder’s win to praise his performance.

“Everyone was blown away by Thunder,” she said. “We’ve always believed Thunder was one of the best, so it was also cool that an expert in the world of mascots reached out to congratulate us.”

The Cheer team had hurdles to overcome in winning the Game Day title.

The competition simulates how cheerleaders get a crowd to react at a game, but the event is focused on football schools with a wider stage and even a green turf. GCU is a basketball school, so for judges to recognize the differences in spacing and chants was key, Weeks said.

Along with the Dance team’s top-five finishes in two categories – jazz (third) and Game Day (fourth) – the weekend showcased GCU’s strengths.

“For Cheer and Dance, our number one priority is to entertain and engage the students. We have a strong connection with our student section, and we operate as one in Spirit Programs,” Weeks said. “As a Spirit Programs Manager and an alumni cheerleader, it is amazing to see how our athletes are representing our community.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: GCU Cheer team captures 1st national championship

GCU Today: GCU Dance brings home 3rd national Game Day title

GCU Today: Genung-Koch a finalist for Dance Coach of the Year


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