This year Wesleyan cheerleaders will be returning to Nationals for the second year in a row.
Even though cheerleading is not yet considered a sport, this competition will be the national invitational, which Wesleyan received an at-large bid for placing third in the South Qualifying Group out of 47 teams that competed in four regions.
“It was very exciting to get the opportunity to compete at Nationals last year,” cheer captain of the traditional team Lyndsey Bessinger wrote in an email. “It was great to get to compete on the NAIA level.”
This year’s NAIA (Nationals Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) is being held by Saint Ambrose University at the Quad City River Center in Davenport, Iowa March 11 and 12.
Wesleyan’s Sports Information Director Josh Lacy said that this year and last year there was the national invitational, which is the equivalent of the nationals.
“If all the teams show up again next year, there will be a national championship instead of a national invitational,” Lacy said.
Lacy also said that the cut off between invitational and varsity is that there must be 40 teams qualifying to compete for the national championship, which was done this year. Next year if all the teams come back, cheerleading will be an actual varsity sport.
“A national championship title would bring more recognition to the university which would attract higher caliber athletes,” Lacy said.
“These things tend to snowball,” he said. “Winning brings more winning.”
Last year Wesleyan placed 11th in nationals at Fremont, Nebraska, Cheerleader and Competitive Dance Coach Carolyn Ikens said.
Wesleyan placed third in the region and then placed 11th in the nation. Last year was Wesleyan’s first time to compete in nationals, she said.
Cheerleading as a varsity sport has been being looked at for over five years, but was just put in place last year, and then more officially this year, but it still can’t declare completely as a sport yet, Ikens said.
“About 4 years ago, I decided to take the cheerleaders to competition for fun and they did really well in the National Cheer Association (NCA) competition,” Ikens said. “NAIA just decided to try out cheer as a sport last year. It was called an emerging sport. It’s now an invitational sport. It’s still not actually categorized as a sport.”
A lot of schools are still recreational and that’s what Wesleyan used to be until it declared varsity last year so it became a completion team, Ikens said.
This year Wesleyan is in third in the region again and are going into the competition starting in 10th place, Ikens said.
Out of 4 regions there were over 40 teams competing where Wesleyan competed against 12 teams. Once all the scores were calculated, Wesleyan ended starting out 10th in the nation going into Nationals, Ikens said.
“I think they’re going to do really well,” Ikens said. “We are real excited.”
Bessinger wrote that in order to be successful at nationals, we need to just come together as a team and hit our routine to the best of our ability.
“We have great skills and tricks,” she wrote. “It’s just about coming together as a team to make sure we leave it all on the mat.”
The cheerleading team will be competing at Nationals at Saint Ambrose University at the Quad City River Center in Davenport, Iowa.