North Texas Daily

North Texas cheer squad hosts exhibition in preparation of national competition

North Texas cheer squad hosts exhibition in preparation of national competition

Nealie Sanchez | Staff Writer

North Texas cheer squad hosts exhibition in preparation of national competition
April 05
22:50 2016

Nealie Sanchez | Staff Writer

@NealieSanchez

Decked out in rhinestone-studded competition uniforms and white bows, the North Texas Cheerleaders stand still in their starting positions on the mat. For the first time, the team is wearing sweat bands under their knees with “NO MERCY” embroidered on the front, and embroidered on the back is a green cancer ribbon with a red LT underneath. When the music starts, the team moves with precision while tumbling, hitting toe-touches and nailing a pyramid stunt.

This routine, which lasts two minutes and 15 seconds, is what the cheerleaders have been working towards all year long. And it’s what they’re bringing to Daytona, Florida for the National Cheerleaders Association competition.

The North Texas Cheerleaders held a showoff of their routine Sunday, April 3 at the UNT Volleyball Center for a fee or donation of any amount in order to prepare for their Daytona debut. When the music finished, everyone yelled and clapped to show appreciation for the skill and accuracy of the cheerleaders.

“Last year, [the team] left with lots of regrets and frustration because they’re better than that,” head coach Traci O’ Neal said.

This year the team is headed to the mat with 14 veterans and what some cheerleaders are calling their “amazing guardian angel.” Lance “LT” Thomas, the brother-in-law of four-year veteran and captain Clonisha Stewart, has been at all previous NCA Daytona competitions with the team and almost every other event.

Courtesy | Clonisha Stewart

Captain Clonisha Stewart, center, poses with her mother and brother-in-law. Courtesy | Clonisha Stewart

LT hoped to make it to the last Daytona with Stewart, but he had been battling cancer throughout Stewart’s cheerleading journey. He lost his battle just last month.

“This is it. It’s bittersweet,” said Stewart. “We’re going to give it our all.”

Last year the team placed 13th out of 27 teams, but some on the team said this year there is no comparison. When the team scored much lower than anticipated in 2015 and spirits were low, LT said to O’ Neal, “Hold your head up coach.”

The team’s determination is matched by its skill and confidence on the mat. Each cheerleader smiles and keeps their movements sharp, every group toe-touch is high, and every back tuck is tight.

“They’re a thousand percent more prepared,” said O’ Neal. “The confidence and the attitude is in [the routine].”

Though the team feels more prepared than last year, there have been some set-backs. Two cheerleaders are injured and could be found sitting in front of the mat and supporting their team as members of the crowd Sunday.

“We have had a severe ankle injury, and I had to have a four-year veteran that isn’t a base take over base,” O’ Neal said. “She’s making it happen though. There is also one with a torn ACL who is coming to Daytona with us and having ACL surgery after we get back.”

Even in adversity, the team credits its success to coach O’ Neal and each other.

“She has high expectations for us and wants it just as bad as we do,” rookie Mallory Moss said. “We’re really coming together as a team and encouraging each other.”

The team leaves Wednesday at 4:30 a.m and will compete in prelims Thursday afternoon at the Daytona Beach Bandshell amphitheater. On Thursday, eight teams will be selected for the finals, and eight teams will move to the challenge cup where only one winner will be selected as the ninth team in the finals.

On Friday, the nine teams will compete in the finals in the hopes of winning a National Championship Ring.

Featured Image: The North Texas Cheerleaders held a showoff of their routine Sunday, April 3 at the UNT Volleyball Center. Nealie Sanchez | Staff Writer

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