By Matt Green
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – They entered the 2013 NCA Collegiate National Championships with four straight national titles under their belts. Although the drive for five came up just short in their first competition at the NCAA Division II level, the Shorter University Cheer Hawks showed that they have what it takes to be an instant contender in their new division.
Shorter’s Large Coed squad placed fourth out of 10 and Small Coed finished fifth out of 10 in their respective divisions at the NCA Collegiate National Championship, which concluded last Friday in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The Cheer Hawks saw both teams reach the finals for the fifth straight year, giving Shorter 10 total appearances in the NCA national finals in 10 tries. Shorter’s Large and Small squads competed for the first time in the Large and Small Coed II divisions after winning three straight All-Girl Intermediate II national championships from 2009-2011 and an NAIA Small Coed national crown last spring.
Of the eight colleges and universities from the state of Georgia competing in this year’s NCA Collegiate National Championships – those representatives included Kennesaw State, Georgia State, Columbus State, Valdosta State, the University of Georgia, Georgia College, Georgia Southern and Young Harris College – Shorter was the only program to field multiple cheer teams in advanced division finals.
"It is really difficult once you advance to the national finals to be competitive in multiple divisions, especially when most of the top Division II competitors are only fielding one team" said Shorter head coach Rachel Magness. "Our talent is divided among 40 athletes across two teams, rather than being stacked into a single team of 20. When you look at the biggest, best programs in the country, programs like the University of Louisville and Oklahoma State, they are fielding two to three teams at the top level each year.
“Those are the program models we are seeking to emulate at Shorter, and with the advancement of two teams to the finals in Division II, this year was a huge step in that direction."
Shorter’s Large Coed squad, in search of its first national championship, showed well in its Division II debut.
In Thursday's preliminary round, Large Coed finished the day in third place behind Lindenwood University and opening day leader Columbus State, but edged out two-time defending NAIA national champion Oklahoma City University in the preliminary round to take plenty of momentum into Friday’s finals. Oklahoma City rallied on Friday to capture another national title, but the Cheer Hawks held their ground, slipping one spot to fourth after their finals performance.
Grand Valley State nipped Shorter for third while Columbus State finished second.
The competition was steep in the Small Coed II division, with Shorter slipping into Friday’s finals on the shoulders of a routine rated as one of the most difficult in the division.
Small Coed suffered 8.00 points worth of deductions in Thursday’s prelims, but still managed to secure the fifth and final spot in Friday’s finals. Having to perform a restructured routine due to an injury suffered during the prelims, the Small Coed Cheer Hawks held on for a fifth place finish on Friday.
Valdosta State ended Friday’s finals in the top spot, followed by Blinn College, the University of Central Oklahoma and Georgia College.
Although the trip didn’t result in any hardware, the Cheer Hawks set a strong foundation for a future at the Division II level. Magness, who has helped Shorter capture four national championships in five years as a program, put everything into perspective.
"There is no doubt that five or six consecutive titles would have been incredible, and on our best performances, both our teams were capable of winning a national championship,” said Magness, who also praised her assistants – Taylor Hearn, Megan Bamford and Katie Browning – for their hard work. “They were both solid contenders in the national finals, even with a few costly mistakes.
“It's been great to celebrate the accomplishment of our four national championship titles in our first four years, but this year, it really is about celebrating the enormous growth of a program that continues to improve and has now taken another huge step toward joining the ranks of some of the greatest programs in the country,” the coach added. “Before this weekend, there was a question as to how our team would handle the transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II. The answer from Daytona is loud and clear.
“Our national finalists are top five in the nation across two competitive divisions of the biggest college championship in the world."