Dynasty: UK Cheer wins 24th national championship

UK cheerleading chairmanship rings lay on the court at the Seaton Center before the team’s sendoff on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Erika Bonner

It’s been quite the year for Kentucky Athletics.

Ten wins that include a Citrus Bowl victory for UK football, an SEC Championship title and NCAA tournament run for volleyball, an Elite 8 appearance from the men’s soccer team, and in the second week of January, UK had seven ranked teams (gymnastics, men’s and women’s basketball, rifle, women’s track and field, men’s and women’s swimming and diving).

And as of Jan. 20, there is one more accolade to be added to that list: a 24th national title for Kentucky cheerleading.

UK cheer and national championships are synonymous— the program has had 24 of them, after all. The Cats won their first crown in 1985, and would then go on to claim the 1987-88, 1992, 1995-2002, 2004-06, 2008-10, 2012, 2014 and 2016-19 championships. If you don’t feel like doing the math, that’s 24 national titles in the last 35 years. 2019’s ‘ship makes a quadruple triumph, the second time in school history the team has done so, while the school record is eight straight.

The Universal Cheerleaders Association competition takes place in Orlando, Florida, where some of the best cheer programs in the country go head-to-head for the chance to win it all. Kentucky came in first place in Division IA, with Ohio State University in second, and the University of Alabama in third. UK and Alabama were the only two SEC schools to place in the top-10 in Division IA.

But what sets the Wildcats apart from the other top cheer programs in the country?

Cheerleaders Riley Aguiar and Josh Marsh both emphasized focus.

“Just two minutes and 30 seconds to just straight focus. We don’t deviate from anything that we have not practiced, we stick to the script, everything that Jomo (Thompson, head coach) has taught us, all the reps that we have done, countless, countless hours that we have spent in the gym, it all comes out when we do the routine,” Marsh said. “It’s our job to show the process and show the world what we’re capable of and trying to make it look as easy as possible and clean as possible.”

And they did just that. After it was announced that the team won, many fans took to Twitter to express their congratulatory statements, including UK men’s basketball head coach John Calipari and former UK men’s basketball player Devin Booker.

“Congrats, Kentucky Cheer. Domination at its finest!” Booker wrote.

Championships aren’t new to UK Cheer, but for them, this year felt different. Both Marsh and Aguiar said they believe there’s a little something about this year’s team that added to the winning recipe. Marsh said experience; Aguiar said chemistry.

“The road itself has been a little bit easier because we have a really, really athletic team, people that have been in cheer for a good bit so they kind of know the ins and outs of everything, so we really don’t have to teach them the stuff that’d you kind of have to teach people in the previous years,” Marsh said.

Junior Pittsburgh native Aguiar said this year’s team is full of chemistry, honesty and trust, three things that are key for a successful showing on the mat.

“There’s not really any cliques, like we all just really work together and help each other, we’re honest with each other, we give corrections and everyone’s been taking the corrections really well to get those little mistakes out,” Aguiar said. “If you don’t trust your teammates, like you really have nothing. These skills are extremely high in difficulty so you have to do your job and you can’t do any more or any less, and you have to trust the person you’re with to do their job, and then it all works out.”

For them, it’s not the championships or being on the floor at Rupp Arena that makes it all worthwhile— it’s wearing UK across their chests that make those things even more special, and Marsh specifically credits those who wore it before him.

“People who paved a way for us to— for us to receive the benefits and stuff that we get today, receiving the notoriety and the respect that we get at UK and country-wide,” Marsh said.

For Aguiar, being a UK cheerleader is all she’s ever dreamed of, and she said she didn’t even look at any other schools because of it.

“And just being able to represent our school and show the school that cheerleading is something that should be recognized because other schools know who we are and take us so seriously,” Aguiar said. “It’s just an incredible feeling wearing my school across my chest.”