Cheer team earns first place in division at Nationals


Jordan Rusche, Lifestyles Editor (She/her)

After making it through both semi-finals and finals of the 2021 Universal Cheerleaders Association College Nationals, the South Dakota State University All-Girl Cheer Team placed first in the Open All Girl Game Day-Cheer division.

This is the first time in SDSU history that the cheer team has attended Nationals.

The results of the first round of Nationals were announced April 19, with SDSU taking the highest score in their division.

“We found out Monday night that we made it to the finals, so we had practice Wednesday night,” junior Ally Zerfas said. “We watched a fiilm of our routine, went through the results from the judges and what they told us, watched a few other teams just as a learning thing and then we had practice and we started recording (Thursday) night.”

The team submitted their video for the final round April 23. Hanna Siemonsma, another junior on the team, said they focused on making their routine more engaging for the audience the second time around.

“A lot of it is just cleaning up our technique on things and adding more personality and entertainment to the whole routine,” she said.

The cheer season leading up to Nationals was not easy for the team, though.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the team was only able to practice a few times each week.

“Our main struggle in a way for competing has been that we don’t have as many practices a week, so we have less time … to make those changes and actually perform them,” Siemonsma said.

The team also has not performed at as many games or events as they do in a typical season.

“We still got to do One Day for State in the fall, obviously there wasn’t Hobo Day,” Zerfas said. “We cheered a fair amount of basketball games; it just looks a little bit different when we are cheering at games because we’re up in the stands and not on the floor and we can’t do stunting.”

On top of the decreased preparation time for the regular season, the team also had very little time to prepare their routine for Nationals.

“We didn’t find out that we were competing until like two months before, when usually teams start practicing so much earlier,” freshman cheerleader Lexi Runge said, “so it was definitely stressful knowing that we didn’t have a lot of time to learn and perfect our routine.”

With three juniors, five sophomores and 12 freshmen, the team saw quite a few new faces for the 2020-21 school year, adding another challenge to the team’s preparations.

“With the routine, we’re in the game day category, so a lot of the entertainment pieces you bring to (Nationals) are things that you would typically see or do at games. It’s difficult to teach that when our freshmen and our newbies haven’t actually experienced that,” Siemonsma said.

Despite the obstacles in its way, the team was able to band together to work through these challenges.

“Our team definitely faced these stressful times head-on and worked so hard,” Runge said. “It was so incredible to be surrounded by supportive girls who all had the same mindset.”

Siemonsma and Zerfas added the new cheerleaders were “fast learners” and adjusted to the changes quickly.

The team has also learned to be more flexible through the challenges of this year, especially with many events and practices coming at them last minute.

“Even competing, we didn’t really know we were doing that until we came back from Christmas break, so, like (Siemonsma) said, we put in some late nights to prepare for that,” Zerfas said. “We put the most into this year that we could, and we made the best out of it.”

Making it to Nationals has not only made them stronger, but it has shone light on a team whose accomplishments are often pushed to the sidelines— literally.

“I think in the past it’s like we were there cheering on the other teams, but we weren’t competing for any wins for ourselves,” Zerfas said. “This kind of gives us that equal walkway of, ‘we’re competing for something just like other teams are.’ They’re competing for a win each game and now that’s what we’re doing in our competition.”

Assistant Coach Isabelle Masloski also shared the amount of work that goes into a regular season for the cheerleaders, something many fans may not be aware of.

“In a normal season, our girls put in anywhere from 15 to 20 hours a week for cheerleading,” she said. “They lift in the weight room three times a week, have (two and a half) hour practices minimum twice a week, plus football and basketball games and team appearances. This schedule was for a regular season and will be triple the time for the added competitive routine.”

Zerfas and Siemonsma added that many other SDSU athletic teams have shared their support of the cheerleaders, along with community members and former students.

“All the times we’ve recorded, we’ve had different alumni come back and kind of help us out during our routine,” Siemonsma said. “There’s been a lot of feedback overall from the community about wishing us luck and everything.”

The cheerleaders and coaches alike hope that their performance in Nationals will earn more recognition for the team in the seasons to come.

“I think there’s been a lot more support and attention towards the team that we don’t usually get because we’re usually there for everyone else and cheering them on, so it’s been nice to show what we’re able to do,” Siemonsma said.

There’s also a hope that the success of this year’s team will inspire future cheerleaders to carry on the tradition.

“Knowing that our [the freshmen’s] first year ever competing we made it to finals will definitely be something to live up to,” Runge said. “I feel like it puts a good amount of pressure on every future team because they will want to do the same, if not better. Every year now there will be that push to work even harder to get to finals again.”