The Corral can sometimes look like a moldy hidden closet in the gleaming center of Yuengling, but it’s under the old yellow lighting of this gymnasium in a gymnasium where a USF dynasty is being forged.
While the glory of back-to-back national championships is rightly celebrated, the hours of inglorious physical labor performed anywhere with a floor and two cheerleaders ready to do stunts also deserve recognition.
Unlike many sports, there is no clear offseason in cheerleading. The team goes through tryouts in May, prepares for the football season in the fall, the competitive season in the winter, and returns to tryouts the following spring.
“In the summer we [practice] twice a week,” coach Gillian Guadagnino said. “Then, once the fall semester starts, we’ll go up to three days a week for three hours each, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Once the November hits we will add a fourth day on Sunday to start working on the choreography.
“Once December rolls around and as soon as the finals are over, we actually go every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to prepare for our national championship.”
Even though the holiday season is cut short, it’s a sacrifice the team members are willing to make to achieve their collective goals, according to senior Nicole Carignan.
“We only have five days until the Christmas holidays to go see the family,” she said. “Two of those days are travel days. So it’s really three days, and the families are getting angry. My mother always tells me ‘What are you doing? Come to the house.’ And I’m just like, ‘No, next year maybe.'”
The common trope that cheerleading isn’t a sport or not a high-intensity sport is starting to fade from public opinion, but many people outside the cheering bubble are still surprised to learn the true scale of demand, according to senior Uriel Sanchez.
“It’s basically a full-time job,” he said. “When we tell people that, they’re really amazed, because they’re like, ‘Wow, do you train for like six, seven hours a day?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s total commitment.’
While the hours the cheerleaders devote to team training match a typical work week, the extra training they commit to exceeds it, according to Carignan.
“Even when we practice, say 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., everyone comes in an hour early and then everyone wants to keep delaying after that,” she said. “On days off, we do stunts outside or come to the Corral. We just do stunts all the time and way more than we actually practice.
When Guadagnino arrives to lead the training, everyone has already sweated. It’s a sight she’s grown accustomed to since arriving at USF in 2016, and this current generation of cheerleaders exemplify that added motivation more than any group before them.
“They always wanted to do more. They always wanted to get an extra rep,” she said. “We train a lot, but they never hesitated to train more.
“If they had another rep in them, they would do it and they wanted to do it. They wanted to practice the way they were going to play.
The team’s hard work paid off in the form of back-to-back Universal Cheer Association National Championships.
USF coed cheer is the second program in sports history to repeat as a national champion, winning its first in 2021 and doing it again Jan. 16.
Even with the success, the team refuses to let off the gas, according to Guadagnino.
“We actually started this year chasing a national championship, not defending one,” she said. “So we kind of flipped the script, because there’s a lot of pressure that comes with defending a national championship.”
Sanchez was wary of possible falls after the Championship peak in a new season of competition, ensuring that the motivation remained.
“I think the most important thing was definitely trying to keep that mentality of ‘Yeah, we’ve won before, but it’s not now,'” he said. is not this year, so we have to keep driving to keep being better because we can’t be complacent.”
The next step for student joy is replacing a record 11 seniors leaving this semester. The trials in May are bigger than any in recent memory, according to Guadagnino.
Once the chosen few go to bed, the objective will not change.
“The new team we are going to have in May is not a national champion. It was the team before them that was national champion,” she said.
“This is how we will continue to coach the children to maintain their humility and their thirst to continue in the right direction.”