By Laci Sutton / Managing Editor-Content

For the first time since 2008, the Hutchinson Community College spirit squads are heading to Daytona Beach, Florida.

Following the halftime performance at the HutchCC vs. Highland football game on Oct. 29 at Gowans Stadium, the spirit squads were surprised with a video from Navarro College cheerleading coach, and Netflix series “Cheer” star Monica Aldama, announcing that the teams will be competing in the National Cheerleading Association and National Dance Alliance College Nationals in April 2023.

“When her face first popped up on the screen, I was so shocked I felt like I couldn’t move,” HutchCC freshman and cheer co-captain Ajae Henderson said. “It was so crazy Monica would take time out of her day to talk about HutchCC.”

The Blue Dragon cheer team rally’s fan support at a volleyball match earlier in the year.

While the HutchCC cheerleading squad has competed in Daytona previously, this will be the Dragon Dolls’ NDA debut.

The NCA and NDA College Nationals is an annual competition for collegiate cheer and dance teams held in Daytona Beach. The competition features not only junior college teams, but also NCAA Division 1, Division 2, and sometimes NAIA programs.

Teams must qualify to compete by earning a bid at camps throughout the summer.

“Unlike other sports that have to win throughout the season to qualify for their national championship,” HutchCC spirit squad head coach Sami Bell said, “we execute skills in the summer to set the tone for our team’s capabilities and then work to build and execute throughout our season until April (nationals).”

A cheerleading competition routine consists of many different elements, creating the skeleton of the routine. These elements include quad stunts, standing tumbling, running tumbling, jumps, baskets, co-ed stunts, pyramids, and dance, all packed and perfected in two minutes.

Dance routines consist of synchronized choreography and skills and are scored based on overall impression and energy brought into the routine.

The teams are putting in countless hours to prepare for the fierce atmosphere they will face next spring, currently practicing four days a week, typically early mornings, but are ready to increase if necessary. These long hours can lead to athletes feeling overwhelmed and overworked, but they never lose sight of the end goal. They are hungry and striving for success.

“I feel like the atmosphere is where everyone wants the best for each other, then because of that we all push each other to be the very best because that’s what we all want,” HutchCC sophomore Dragon Doll squad member Maggie Strobel said.

Competition routine prep will begin in December and they are pulling out all the stops. The dance routine will feature a powerful, different kind of hip-hop this year.

Bell said that she plans to bring in a choreographer, well-known in the competitive cheerleading industry, to craft a unique cheer routine.

“Daytona is different because the experience and energy as a whole is so much more intense. Let alone you’re competing and practicing in the elements,” Bell said. “All outdoors with the coast wind and sand – you have to be ready for whatever Daytona throws at you. We have to prepare for worst-case scenarios and how the teams will overcome if they faced errors on the mat.”

In the midst of preparing for nationals, the spirit squads continue to support Blue Dragon athletics. They plan to host a cheer and dance showcase sometime in the spring, bringing their talent and athleticism into the spotlight.

The last few years have brought many trials and tribulations for the spirit squads but they have persevered and are ready to take their skills to the famous bandshell.

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