On April 28, the Sacred Heart University cheerleading team won the 2021 Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) Open Girl Game Day Nationals hosted at Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla. The Pioneers are two-time national champions after winning the 2020 UCA Division I All Girl National Title in 2020.
After the spread of COVID-19, which made all sporting events unlikely to happen going into the 2021 season, the tournament’s fate was questioned by the entire college cheerleading community.
However, after being postponed from its usual date in January, Sacred Heart cheer was able to come out on top with a first-place trophy.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” said head coach Christina Sereno. “We never thought one national title was attainable and to have achieved two is truly indescribable.”
Schools such as Morehead State and the University of West Georgia used to control the tournament in past years before the Pioneers’ championship run in 2020, with Morehead winning in 2015, 2016 and 2018 and with West Georgia winning in 2017 and 2019.
Among this year’s competition, the Avila University Eagles were a potential threat for the Pioneers when trying to achieve their second national title.
“Our biggest threat at nationals was Avila University,” said junior Christina Capito. “Going into finals, we knew what areas we needed to improve in to keep our lead in first place. Our scores with them were very close, and watching them motivated us even more to perfect our routine.”
According to the UCA, Sacred Heart defeated Avila in the finals by achieving an event score of 94.0167 with zero deductions, edging out the Eagles, who received a score of 93.4334.
The year prior, Avila was not in Sacred Heart’s division, so the Pioneers only needed to focus on competing against West Georgia and Morehead.
COVID-19 was responsible for the lack of practice that the cheer team was able to have in the spring of 2020 and how prepping for nationals this year had to be modified immensely. Like other teams at Sacred Heart, if a cheer team member was exposed to someone with the virus, they had to be quarantined for two weeks.
“This season we have had to overcome a lot of adversity with COVID-19,” said junior Tori Hanuschak. “Between not knowing when we would be able to practice again, if someone would be contact traced, so we really had to take advantage of every second of practice we had.”
The UCA hosts a number of different division-separated competitions in Orlando, Fla. After winning the Division I All Girl Title in 2020, the Pioneers decided to move divisions and compete at the UCA Open All Girl Game Day Division.
When switching divisions, the team had to compete against even better prepared squads than the year previous.
“This year’s national title was special to us because it was the first year we entered into the game day division and even crazier that we won that division,” said Sereno.
Ending their season as national champions yet again, the cheer team will graduate 11 seniors at the end of May.
The seniors have gone through the challenges of COVID-19, won two national championships and built the program together here at Sacred Heart for the last four years.
“To be a Pioneer on the cheer team means to never back down in face of adversity,” said senior captain Victoria Jordan. “We faced a lot of challenges this season with COVID, among other things, and the girls on the team pushed through it all and chose to put in the extra time to work toward our goals and put out the best routine possible at nationals.”