Cheerleaders bounce back from third place, claim team’s 16th national championship

It seems as though most of what is on ESPN recently focuses on the New England Patriots’ football dynasty. But when it comes to dynasties, the Patriots have nothing on the UK Cheerleaders.

The Wildcats won their record 16th Universal Cheer Association National Championship on Sunday. It was the Cats’ fourth championship in the past five years and their 12th in the last 14 years.

After finishing third the previous season, head coach Jomo Thompson knew there would be no shortage of dedication with this year’s squad.

“Motivation was not a factor, winning is something that we do here,” Thompson said. “We strive to win every year and we expect to win every year. It’s a good goal to have. The team realized that last year was not a success as far as competition was concerned.”

Drew Bewley, a junior on the team and varsity member since her freshman year, said last year’s finish influenced this year’s team.

“It had an impact on practices, everyone’s attitude, and everyone’s overall work ethic,” Bewley said. “We worked really well together this year, we all got along and wanted to help each other out, whether in cheerleading or outside of cheerleading. If we had won the national championship last year it would have been four in a row, that was devastating, but we took it back this year and that was our goal.”

The team was relatively young this year with eight freshmen and sophomores. But the newcomers to the squad knew what was at stake. Freshman Ashley Phillips said the pressure to perform at Kentucky is great.

“I wanted to be a UK cheerleader since I can remember; I’m really proud of myself for getting here,” Phillips said. “The loss last year was a huge motivator for this year. We had the third place trophy sitting in front of our mat when we practiced. The championship means absolutely everything. We worked really hard to get to where we are right now – all the work has paid off.”

Bewley agreed and said this championship is a little sweeter than the one she was a part of in her freshman year.

“My first year I was new, it was always my dream to be a UK cheerleader as I grew up, watching it and wanting to be here,” Bewley said. “This one was a bigger deal because I was an older girl and I got to teach the younger girls and show them what I went through. The goal next year is to win nationals again, and keep the tradition going.”

The Kentucky cheerleaders only enjoyed three days off over Winter Break and started doing two-a-days over most of that time.

Embracing themes as the season moved on, the Cats would often quote the movie “Superbad,” saying “We’re gettin’ that fa sho,” in reference to the national championship. The team has also said that they might have the quote engraved in their championship rings.

That camaraderie was obvious in other aspects of the team as well. Thompson said it was greater this year than teams he has coached in the past.

“The kids got along more as a team than some others did,” Thompson said. “They worked well together, worked really hard and respected each other.”

A characteristic most apparent in the team may be the pride it has for its school. The Kentucky name means a lot to team members, Bewley said.

“We wear that K on our chest and we have that pride,” Bewley said. “It’s a great honor to be a UK cheerleader and to compete at nationals.”

Phillips agreed and said it is an amazing feeling.

“It makes me really proud to be a UK cheerleader, the tradition here at this school is immense,” Phillips said. “It’s amazing to know that you’re on the number one cheerleading team in the nation.”