By Taylor Long, '12
JMU cheerleading head coach Kelly Moore has been coaching for seven years. This year marks her second at JMU and also her second time taking members of the Dukes' cheerleading squad to the National Cheerleading Association Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championships.
Following the success from the previous season, Moore's squad qualified with two groups for the Group Stunt Competition at the NCA Cheer and Dance Nationals on April 14 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The goals that Moore set for herself and her team were to qualify for Nationals at a silver level, which the Dukes did last summer, and to bring the National Championship back to JMU. Moore notes that what has separated her team from others was its amazing game-day squad that "really wants to be at games" and "is really supported as a varsity sport more than most (cheer) teams and take pride in everything they do."
She said these were just a few of the things that really make the squad unique and special to her, especially compared to others around the conference.
Two groups of four cheerleaders qualified from JMU through a video submission with only 10 groups being selected overall. The one group is comprised of sophomore Shannon Conolly, junior Stefani Paige, freshman Katilynn Wyatt, and freshman Joyce Theisen, who in Moore's words were very powerful and showed a lot of strength in their routine.
The second group is made up of senior Kelsey O'Conner, freshman Stephanie Bucher, freshman Haley Svadeba, and sophomore Erika Downing who Moore said were a very technical group. Unfortunately an injury to one team member will prohibit the Dukes' second squad from performing.
This injury is not the first challenge the team has faced this season and Moore says the hardest part of her entire career was the death of team member Nicholas Keatts. When asked about her proudest moment as a coach this year she immediately stated it was how her team coped with the loss and stayed by one another's side during the roughest of times.
Moore was emotionally supported herself by "the way our team and our supporting members of our team came together to really get everybody through it. We didn't lose a single athlete, we didn't have anyone have to withdraw, it was just super inspiring the way that everyone came together."
The whole team has improved greatly over the past few years and individually this season the ones that improved the most in Moore's eyes were Conolly, Wyatt, and Svadeba.
"Flyer wise, I would definitely say Shannon (Connolly), and I really think that comes from a competitive mindset. Base wise, Katilynn (Wyatt) and Haley (Svadeba), coming in and learning collegiate stunts is significantly different than learning high school stunts. Both of them picked it up like that."
With the new talent and the experience of those who competed at Nationals last year, Moore feels very excited about the opportunity to perform.
"This year I feel like we've had a year under our belt and everyone gets it, they've been there and they understand. Nobody was happy with our placement last year and came back with a vengeance this year."
The main thing Moore wants her team to take away from Nationals is not just a trophy but to hit a clean routine.
"If we don't win but we hit our routine then we have done our job, said Moore. "Cheerleading is based on what the judges want that day, and my goal is to put a product out there so they can't take any deductions."
The team has some extra motivation this year in the form of a fake ring attached to their key chain which is there to remind them every day that this could be their real National Championship ring. On top of the ring, the team also brings in the 1996 National Championship trophy along with last year's trophy and places them in the middle of the mat.
"We just tell them you get to choose which one you get to have, which one do you want."
Being at JMU for just two years as the cheerleading coach, Moore has inspired and propelled her team to new heights.
"It really is about finding as a coach how your team operates; for me it is about reading the kids."
With two appearances at Nationals in just two years, Moore has most certainly learned the way her Dukes operate and continues to do so until the trophy is once again brought back to its rightful place, back at JMU.