After a long season of practice and preparation, the Fresno State cheer and dance team finished first place at the 2020 United Spirit Association (USA) Collegiate Championships.
The Bulldogs finished with a score of 89.51 in Anaheim, Calif., on Feb. 15-16 among 4-year colleges in Division I small co-ed show cheer. They beat Portland State, Arizona, Northern Arizona, Colorado and Southern California.
“We knew that the talent we had, and we knew the competition we were up against, which were other very talented colleges. We knew that we could get it; we could pull through,” said Emmeline Jennings, cheer coach and spirit program director at Fresno State.
The Bulldogs had placed third the previous two years in Anaheim and finished on top this year after some unexpected injuries.
“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Jennings said. “That’s basically how every single competition is. It’s just the hours and hours of preparation.”
The cheer team’s season starts late in July, when members attend a college camp in Las Vegas to work on their stunts, tumbling and pyramids. In the fall, they decide who is included in their competitive team for events.
They practice three times a week for two to three hours a day, doing their routine over and over to perfect it. They are also coached by a professional choreographer to incorporate elite skills.
“They had an amazing routine,” said Jennings when describing their performance. She was amazed by the team’s execution on day two.
During their day two winning routine, the Bulldogs chanted loud and proud, “We Are Fresno,” “Go Red” and “Go White.” The performance included frontflips and backflips done while on top of their pyramids. They tumbled from one end of the mat to the other, and TimeOut, the Fresno State mascot, performed alongside them.
“Getting first place was just a huge relief especially for my older girls, and also I think for the moral of the program too,” Jennings said. “It just makes heads turn a little bit more that like, ‘Yeah, Fresno State you know they can do it.’”
“We just had a really great routine, and we were able to hit and everything looked so good,” said Mackenzie Engelman, a senior, who is a back spot and a tumbler on the cheer team.
Engelman is one cheerleader on the team who has competed in Daytona Beach, Florida, for the National Cheerleaders Association College Nationals — the biggest cheer competition in the country.
A cheer team’s goal is always to go to Daytona Beach and compete, but they haven’t had the recruiting to have a proper team, making them move over to the United Spirit Association.
“Cheerleading is kind of crazy,” said Engelman. “As much as you practice, it is never guaranteed to work out the way you wanted to.”
“Competing was really fun. I like competition, so anything that has to do with competing for cheer is really fun going against many teams and winning was an honor due to all the hard work we’ve put in practices,” said Rachel White, a third-year cheer member, who is a base and tumbler.
White said that this year’s team was very unique due to the fact that they were really close. She said she felt a strong family bond within the team and it showed in their performances in Anaheim.
“I thought it was very important just to show everybody like we do work. We don’t just cheer at the games,” said White. “We do more than just that. We’re a competition team, and we just want to show people, it takes a lot more than just waving our poms [pompoms] on the court, doing just the bare minimum.”
“Once you hear them call your name and…you almost don’t believe it, but at the same time, you believe it because if you know that you did well and you executed everything properly,” said Manuel Sosa, a second-year cheer member, who’s a back spot and base.
Sosa said the motivation of the cheer team was not just to win the competition, but to be recognized by athletics and marketing. Sosa said the athletics department has not given them the recognition she feels they deserve.
“We kind of wanted them to see like, ‘Hey we’re here, this is what we do, this is not just hey we wave poms [pompoms] at the game,’” Sosa said. “We’re actually here to show you we can actually do these skills, and it’s a sport.”
“I will remember this year’s team by learning to grow with everybody and kind of leaning off of each other when someone needs help,” Sosa said. “We were just there for each other and it was more so like a family. When it came down to nationals time, in order to execute what we needed to do, it worked.”
TimeOut also took home the best mascot title at the USA Collegiate Championships with a score of 93.1, beating mascots from the College of the Sequoias, Angelo State and USU Eastern.