They are gymnasts, dancers, motivators, and athletes. Gustavus cheerleaders use their athletic prowess to pump up the Gustie crowds. Despite the long practices and physical demands, the women remain positive and strive to improve their skills.
The Gustavus cheerleaders are coached by Senior Ramy Hagen. Hagen worked for a cheer company and her experiences there have prepared her to coach at the collegiate level. Because she is the coach and a member of the squad, Hagen had to learn to balance the two roles effectively.
“It’s trying to find the role of being in a friendship with the girls and being authoritative. There’s a line between not just being their friend, but making sure they take you seriously,” Hagen said.
One of Hagen’s larger responsibilities is conducting tryouts and making the roster for each season. Many of the cheerleaders come in with no cheerleading experience. According to Hagen, the women that are chosen show potential as cheerleaders and have positive attitudes.
“While some girls haven’t had cheer, they’ve had gymnastics, dance, or some other sport. At tryouts, we look at potential and personal dynamic. We look to see if we can mold someone into a cheerleader and really work on the fundamentals. We rely on the girls who do have cheer experience to set a good example,” Hagen said.
Hagen isn’t the only cheerleader with an authoritative position. Senior Heidi Herness and Junior Cassie Mizinksi were voted team captains by their fellow cheerleaders.
As captains, the women help their teammates improve and bring the team closer together. Mizinski and Herness often have bonding events at their apartment. The team meets at their captains’ apartment before games to do their hair or to have movie nights where they watch Bring It On.
Mizinski and Herness say there is added pressure in being a captain. According to Mizinski, they try to be there for their teammates, not just for cheerleading, but for anything. The other women look to them for advice and the captains want to set a good example.
“It’s a good pressure though. It keeps us motivated,” Herness said.
Keeping a positive attitude is an important component to being a successful cheerleading squad. Learning a new stunt takes time and the women may practice a new stunt several dozen times before successfully completing it.
“The hardest part is trying something over and over before you get it, a lot of repetition. There’s a lot of failure before triumph,” First-year Abbie Simms said.
The women agree that working hard to perfect a stunt makes completing one a big moment. As the season progresses, the team begins to work on harder moves. One of Mizinski’s favorite parts of the season is learning the bigger stunts.
“Getting our 2 ½ high stunts for the first time is a big moment for me. It shows progression and it shows us growing as a team,” Mizinski said.
The Gustie cheerleaders want people to recognize that they are hardworking athletes. They combine skills from several different areas including gymnastics and dance to create a physically demanding sport.
“You go try and throw and catch people and look good while doing it. It’s not pleasant to fall and we just make it look so easy. A lot of little things go into each stunt,” Herness said.
Hagen believes it is important for the team to stay positive. While the women are athletes themselves, it is also their job to support the other Gustavus athletes. At practices, she reminds the women to be loud and keep up the energy.
For Hagen, coaching and being a member of the Gustavus cheerleading team is more than rewarding. The experiences she’s had with the team are unique. She wants people to realize how committed the women are to the team and how much work goes into what these women do.
“I’d like people to know we really do put a lot of hard work into what we do. It’s really awesome these girls are able to come in with a positive attitude, even if it is a big time commitment. It’s rewarding to see progress over the season. You get something from cheerleading that you don’t get from anything else since we’re participating at a college level. We take it seriously and do our best,” Hagen said.