GVSU coed cheer wins national title

Young Lakers hit nearly flawless routine at national competition

By A.A. Knorr | 4/10/16 9:53pm

GVL / Courtesy - Regan Blissett
by Regan Blissett and Regan Blissett / The Lanthorn

The Lakers couldn't touch the water. They had to compete first.

When they did charge into the surf in Daytona Beach, Florida, however, they came decked out in team uniforms with a national championship trophy in hand.

Thanks to a nearly flawless routine and a healthy heeding of tradition, the Grand Valley State coed cheer team took home a national championship at the NCA Collegiate National Championship from April 7-8.

"There's a tradition of going to Daytona. You're not allowed to touch the water until after you compete," said sophomore Regan Blissett. "So, after we won, we took our trophy and ran into the ocean with our uniforms on."

GVSU competed in the Division II large coed intermediate group, and narrowly pulled out the title. The Lakers earned a score of 85.55 on their final routine, while Iowa Central Community College scored an 84.80 and University of Arkansas—Fort Smith scored an 84.58. Scores max out at 90 points.

"The road to nationals was not an easy one," Blissett said. "Over the course of the season we've lost 17 people, we've had a coaching change and we changed our routine two weeks ago.

"The work was definitely worth it."

The Lakers brought a squad of 23 student athletes down to Daytona, and 20 competed on the mat during the national meet. GVSU is a uniquely young crew, with only five cheerers being upperclassmen.

Brandy Skantze is the head coach of the Laker cheer program, but assistant coaches and volunteers aid Skantze in handling the various squads within the program. The Laker coed team was being coached by one of Skantze's assistants, but the assistant handed in his resignation in November 2015.

Enter Carter Kiogima, a volunteer who came on in a larger capacity with the coed team after the other assistant coach departed.

But the coaching change didn't deter the Lakers. Neither did losing a number of teammates for various reasons during the season. GVSU changed its routine close to nationals. That didn't matter, either.

The Lakers still won.

"They had a countless number of teammates decide to quit at different points in the season, some as recently as three weeks ago," Kiogima said. "They had the coaching change back in November, knee injuries, foot injuries, just all sorts of things were thrown at them at various points in the season.

"They picked up at the very next practice and kept on going. I kept reminding them they had to stick together."

Eight teams performed in GVSU's division. Each team performed an outdoor routine on the first day of competition, but due to the small group size, all eight advanced to the final round, which took place indoors at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach.

The Lakers weren't sure how the competition would stack up to their talent level, and were shooting for nothing but a clean performance, hoping that hardware might follow.

GVSU's routine was two minutes and 30 seconds, and, according to Blissett, the Lakers felt they hit it perfectly during the final round. GVSU also sent an all-girl cheer team, which competed in Division II. The Laker all-girl squad took fourth place in their competition.

The national title marks the first in GVSU cheer history. The Lakers will only lose one senior prior the next season, and expect to be back stronger, more experienced and ready to storm into the water at Daytona Beach in 2017.

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