Cheerleaders finish fourth despite injuries

Courtney Scrib

To be subjected to the whims of Murphy’s Law can be frustrating for anyone; however, for a team in competition, it can be outright devastating.

Last January, senior Kimberly “Kimmy” Dallas was warming up on one of the mats with the other University cheerleaders, who had been selected to attend the College Cheerleading and Dance Team Championship in Orlando, Fl.

With only twenty minutes remaining before she and the team were to take the stage for the final round of competition, the unexpected happened. The team captain’s hand became caught in the mat, and it was questionable whether or not she would be able to perform the routine.”In competition you know something’s going to happen,” assistant coach Joe Neary said, “but I knew there wasn’t anything that was going to keep her off the mat.”

Despite having suffered a spiral fracture on her left hand (which was unknown to anyone until the day after the competition ended), Dallas, with the support of her teammates and coaches, decided to compete.

Fortunately, the decision paid off as the University finished fourth in their division, Small Co-ed Division I.

Even before arriving in Florida, the competition had already begun. In order to qualify, each school had to send in a tape to the Universal Cheerleaders Association of its squad cheering and performing during games. For the second year in a row, the University scored a perfect cheer tape score, which only a handful out of 100 schools achieved, and earned itself an automatic invite to the semifinal round.

In addition to being the Wildcats’ tenth year to qualify for the national competition, it was also the tenth year that the University has placed in the top ten.

“We hit our routine as solid as we could, and it never felt better,” Dallas said. “That feeling was our reward.”

The camaraderie and resilience displayed in Disneyworld was nothing out of the ordinary for a team that epitomizes what it means to be a member of the University community.

“I have been blessed with nice, smart, hard-working student athletes,” head coach Phil O’Neill said. “They treat each other with respect, and they are all in it for one another.”

Maintaining this type of familial atmosphere is something that O’Neill believes makes a team successful.

“I tell them this all the time. The thing you will get most out of college is the relationships you build with people,” O’Neill said.

In his third year as head coach and tenth year with the program, O’Neill has dabbled in all aspects of the Villanova cheerleading spectrum. During his junior year as an undergraduate, he tried out to be the mascot and claims that still to this day, he holds the title as the University’s biggest Wildcat. After graduating from the ranks of mascot, O’Neill, who at one time was also the head of Greek Life, spent his senior year cheering and was elected as one of the squad’s captain. From there, he volunteered as an assistant coach while attending the University’s graduate school until being offered the head cheerleading coach position. During the day when he is not coaching in the Pavilion, O’Neill also runs his own business in Broomall, Pa. called Liberty Cheer Institute.

Although the team is broken down into two squads, a co-ed and an all-girl, O’Neill and the assistant coaches (the majority of whom also have a background in University cheerleading) expect the same level of dedication and work ethic from every member.

This requires attending practices three to five times a week and participating in weekly tumbling and weight room sessions. It also requires recognizing their roles as representatives of the school.

“Our primary responsibility is to the University,” O’Neill said. “Competition is secondary. We are ambassadors first.”

Like any family, the cheerleading family has its good and bad days, but even on those bad days, the team ultimately remains driven by their commitment not only to the program but also to one another.

“I always emphasize the process more than the result and how important that is,” O’Neill said.

“How hard you work and how you treat each other, that’s what matters.”