‘Cheers’ to second place

James Evans

Name the Villanovan team that has been ranked in the top 10 in the last 10 years. Okay here’s a hint, you can find them in Villanova Stadium every Saturday in the fall. No, it’s not the football team. Here’s another hint, they can also be found in the Pavilion every Saturday in the winter. No, it’s not the basketball team. It is the Cheerleading team.

For the last 10 years now, the cheerleading team has been supporting Villanova teams, but at the same time they have been competing at high level cheerleading competitions and doing so successfully. This past January the team was awarded second place in the Orlando competition.

However, the process is a long drawn out one that starts in August and goes through until the end of basketball season.

“The process starts with camp in August,” head coach Phil O’Neil said. “We had great showing in camp, coming together as a team, learning some new material and some new stunts.”

However, Coach O’Neil is quick to point out that supporting Villanova’s teams are always their primary concern.

“We don’t start thinking about Nationals until October because our first responsibility is always, and always has been, and always will be to support the athletic department and the Villanova community as a whole,” O’Neil said. ” We don’t start thinking about competition until October.”

In mid-October the team first starts to think about nationals, but the real process of getting ready does not begin for the team until mid-November. But when they start to think about it, their focus is totally directed on it and that means the team has to make some sacrifices.

“We start to put together our routine in November,” O’Neil said. “It is a real time intensive process they [cheerleaders] give up there fall break and Christmas break.”

The team however is not guaranteed a trip to the nationals they first have to submit a tape to see if they can qualify for an invite. And this year the team set a record for their highest qualifying position.

“When we qualified, we were the fifth out of 12 teams,” a proud O’Neil recalled. “All the schools above us were larger D-IA programs; it was the highest we had ever placed in the last 10 years since we started competing.”

The video tape consists of the cheerleading team in their own element, at games and also in the community.

“We’re not just at football and basketball games, but were at the Special Olympics and teaching the fight song at homecoming,” O’Neil said. “It is not just us [cheerleaders] standing in front of the crowd but it is us interacting with the crowd.”

The team is judged on three things their cheering, their skills and crowd participation. The crowd participation is worth 15 points and is based on their entry tape.

“So we get down there and check in and they hand you all your information and then they say ‘Here is your crowd score’ and you’re thinking ‘this could either make you or break you,'” O’Neil said.

The team did extremely well in their crowd participation score and knew they just needed perform well and needed to hit their routine.

“There were actually six teams that went down to compete and we came in second out of the six,” O’Neil says with a big smile on his face.

“The division we compete in is called small-co-ed for Division I. So it is all the Division I schools who have four men or less. The division is a good fit for us because we come from a small to medium size catholic institution and while we get excellent support from the University we don’t have the scholarships that the larger schools have. So our division is a very good fit for us.”

Coach O’Neil recognizes that sometimes it may be a risk to compete in the small coed division. Some of the teams they compete against have male grad students on their teams who have been. However, the team was not going to be affected by the intimidation of the older teams.

“They went out there and hit a great routine, they were just absolutely perfect,” O’Neil remembers fondly. “And that is what we are known for in the cheerleading world, clean, sharp and crowd-oriented routines.”

“When I heard “in second place and first runner up in the country,” I was getting choked up, just short of crying,” recalls a joyous O’Neil. “Parents are around me my best friend and still a week and half later I am still beaming.”

“But I knew that we were going to get second, but I also knew back in August that we had the best team we had ever had at Villanova, so this was my expectation. But that still didn’t take away from the excitement of it.”

O’Neil runs a tough program and was excited about the second place finish, but for him it’s not where they finished, but how they competed.

“What I am concerned about is did you work hard, is there anything more you could have done to prepare yourself or to work any harder? If the answer to that is no, then I am 100 percent satisfied,” O’Neil said.

A smile slowly creeps onto Coach O’Neil’s face, “We just happened to do well this year, which just makes it that much better,” a jubilant O’Neil said.

O’Neil professes the idea of running a good program and says how the students have to give it their all, but O’Neil also realizes at the same time they are students and need to enjoy the college life.

“I would never yell at them because they have given me so much,” O’Neil said. “It is the experience not the end result.”

O’Neil slowly leans back in his seat after having gone on about the team for the last hour.

“I’m a happy man, I’m an excited guy … and I’m proud, and I’m just so proud.”