Cheer team wraps up their 2023 season in the top ten at NAIA nationals

By Kari Patron/Staff Writer

The Missouri Valley College Cheer team ends their 2023 competition season in tenth place at the NAIA Competitive Cheer National Championship. The competition took place in Ypsilanti, Michigan on March 10th and 11th. The team placed sixth in the preliminary round with a score of 86.87. For their final performance, they earned a score of 83.22 after a 1.75 deduction making their overall score 84.13 and landing them in tenth place. 

The team competed at NAIA nationals just two weeks after winning their seventh consecutive title at the Heart of America Athletic Conference and three months after competing at the Universal Cheerleaders Association nationals for the first time since 2009.

Assistant coach Tori Pimentel has been part of all seven Conference titles, four years as an athlete and three as a coach. Pimentel won NAIA nationals during her time as a student and tries to keep her athletes encouraged after competitions.

“We never want the goal to be to win,” Pimentel said. “We are in a subjective sport. We could’ve done really well and still not won.”

Pimentel’s own experience as an MVC cheer alum gives her a unique perspective and allows her to guide her athletes during competitions and practices. Her main focus is to always look for ways to improve.

“Even though it wasn’t the outcome we wanted, it was still a learning experience,” Pimentel said. “Next year, it will make them hungrier. We were structured this year, but next year we’re gonna be a little more structured and we’re gonna have more people next year, so we’re just gonna hit the ground running on competition season.”

Three of their student-athletes were selected for the 2023 NAIA Competitive Cheer All-America Team. Rylee Mills was named first-team All-American, Makenzie Allison was named second-team All-American, and Kylee Meares was an honorable mention All-American.

Rylee Mills is now a four-time All-American and has been part of four of the seven Conference titles. Mills has also served as team captain for the past two years.

“I’m not a man who likes to talk and yell,” Mills said. “I lead by example, so when I do something, I want my teammates to do it just as good if not better.”

Mills still has one more year of eligibility due to Covid-19 and is returning next year for his fifth and final season.

“This year we did real good,” Mills said. “At NAIA nationals, we hit our routine the best we’ve ever hit on Day 1, but on Day 2 we had some mistakes. For next year I think we need to go in and work as hard as possible so it’s as perfect as possible so we give the judges and anybody no doubt in their mind that we’re the best team out there.”

Mills will be graduating next year, majoring in Science with two minors in business and psychology.

In addition to focusing more on technique and cleaning up their skills, the cheer team is changing its structure next year. The cheer team will now be divided into four teams: UCA, NAIA, STUNT, and gameday. All of their athletes can try out for as many teams as they want and the coaches will place them accordingly.

Head Coach Nick Lutz will be in charge of the UCA and gameday teams, while assistant coach Tori Pimentel will be in charge of the NAIA and STUNT teams.

STUNT is a new addition to MVC’s cheer program. According to the website of STUNT the sport, STUNT is one of the fastest-growing female sports, which incorporates elements of cheerleading such as partner stunts, jumps and tumbling.

The gameday team will serve as the face of MVC cheer to the community by cheering at games and attending events in the community.

The team will also be adding two new graduate assistants. Morgan Middleton (NAIA and gameday) and Hope Keeylen (UCA and STUNT). Middleton is currently an MVC student and is the only MVC cheerleader to have competed at NAIA, UCA, and NCA cheer nationals. Keeylen comes from Morehead State University, where she competed in the All Girl team for the past four years and won the 2023 UCA Division I National Championship.

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