By Thania Figueroa/Staff Writer
The Missouri Valley College Cheerleading Team are three-time NAIA National Champions and 11-time Heart of America Conference Champions.
Their most recent National Championship was in 2018, and they received their 6th Heart Conference Championship in a row this past Spring.
Although they have many accomplishments and standards to uphold, they are not focused on the titles or winning but the journey that comes along with it.
“We’re never focused on the title, we’re not chasing these titles, we’re chasing the best that we can be,” Assistant Coach Tori Pimentel said.
The cheer team practices four times a week, Monday through Thursday for two hours each evening. The gym is left open on Fridays for athletes to practice on their own time and many of them practice even more, outside of these hours.
The coaches ensure their athletes are confident in their routine before competing and make changes, if necessary. One of Nicholas Lutz’s, head coach, main goals is to put the most difficult routine the team is capable of performing and doing it well.
“Nothing compares to the hard work and everything that goes into just getting there and hitting everything successfully,” Lutz said.
The team starts preparing for competitions early in the school year. They start learning choreography in early October and start doing full run-throughs closer to competitions around January. They start working on skills within 24 weeks of their first competition and play around with ideas, from coaches and athletes. The coaches allow their athletes to brainstorm ideas and give input on what they want to do.
“Preparation is huge for us,” Pimentel said.
During practices, the coaches make sure the timing and spacing is exactly how it would be during a competition to really prepare and make it feel like the real deal.
One important key to practicing is repetition. Doing the routine multiple times, or as many times as possible will ensure perfection and make sure the routine “hits.”
“I’m never going to send them out on the mat with something that I’m not confident that they can hit and that they’re not confident that they can hit,” Lutz said.
Other than competing at nationals, conference and several other competitions, they are involved in game days on campus, including football and basketball. Their job is to hype the audience and players up and keep the team spirit going. They also attend community events like parades, alumni events, and attended three ‘Trunk or Treat’ events this past fall. Lutz emphasizes the importance of building connections and relationships with the community.
“We really feel strongly about just the importance of building that relationship not only for the benefit of our team, our program, but also its ultimately beneficial for the school as well,” Lutz said.
Three time All-American and team captain, Rylee Mills, hopes to become the first five-time All-American. He is very humbled by his accomplishments.
“To me, it shows people that you can do good things and just trying your best to get you there,” he said.
Outside of regular practice times, he tries to practice every weekend, when he does not visit home, shows up to practice 30 minutes to an hour early and sometimes stays after practice to try and achieve his goal.
He says repetition is important, the more reps you do, the better you will be.
“In football, you can run the same route 100 times and it’s the exact same route. In cheer, you can do the exact same stunt 100 times and it will be different every single time,” Mills said.
His favorite part about being on the team is the bond he shares with his teammates.
“We’re all goofy, but we all know when to work and how to work hard,” he said.
Morgan Middleton is also a team captain and named two-time Heart All-Conference Team.
“I’m the well-rounded cheerleader is how I take it. I have good standing with my classes, good grades, my coaches enjoy me, I feel like it means that I’m a coachable individual,” Middleton said.
She also enjoys how close she is with her teammates.
“We are definitely besties,” Middleton said.
Not only are they close as a team but they all want to work hard and have a drive to work hard.
“This team overall wants to be here, wants to work and I get goosebumps just saying it,” she said.
When asked to describe her team she said, “crazy with a capital ‘C’ but definitely loving, hard working, very very determined.”
Nicholas Lutz is the head coach, this is his fourth season in this position. Before coaching at Valley, he worked many different coaching jobs, including UCA instructor, cheer camps, assistant coach at the University of Kansas, and teaching coach courses in countries like Italy, New Zealand, Japan and Chile.
Tori Pimentel, assistant coach, is an MVC alumni. She was part of the cheer team when they won their National Championships in 2018. Being an alumni, she feels that it helps her coaching.
“I think it helps me relate as a coach to the athletes a little bit better,” Pimentel said.
One of her goals is to recruit more athletes, she is hoping to double in size. She spends plenty of time talking to potential athletes, having zoom meetings, inviting them to practice, and overall making connections. Recently, Pimentel sent about 3,000 emails to potential Valley cheerleaders.
“You have to talk to a million kids to get a few,” she said.
Pimentel graduated with a degree in business management, so managing a team comes naturally to her and she keeps them organized. She also runs the team’s Instagram account, getting them to over 7,000 followers.
When recruiting athletes, the coaches look for lots of personality and a love for cheer.
“I want to find people that want to do this because they love cheer because we can do a lot with someone that loves cheer,” Pimentel said.
For the first time since 2009, the team will compete at UCA (Universal Cheerleaders Association). They will also compete in UCA Stunt in the fall of 2023 for the first time, ever.
“Hopefully we come back into UCA and come in with a bang and win it,” Mills said.
UCA and NAIA differ in styles, routines, and time. UCA routines have a “game day” element, like a cheer which is incorporated into the routine, usually in the middle. The routine is two minutes and 30 seconds long and is much more skill based. They get judged based on their skill difficulty and how well they execute it.
NAIA routines are two minutes and 15 seconds long. The routine is judged based on showmanship, flashy-fun things, if the routine is entertaining and of course, skills.
The team will prepare and compete in UCA Stunt in the fall of 2023. How UCA Stunt works is the competition is divided into four quarters; stunts, pyramids, tumbling, and a mix of all three. The cheerleaders will learn up to six “mini” routines for each category prior to the competition. During the competition, the categories will be announced and the team will compete the same “mini” routines against other teams.
“We know we’re good, we know our routine, we know what we’re capable of but at the end of the day it’s what hits. Whatever routine looks the best, whatever routine brings it gets that trophy,” Middleton said.