Imagine finishing second in something – anything – by 0.7 points.
That’s what happened to Bowling Green State University’s co-ed cheerleading squad at last year’s Universal Cheerleading Association College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships.
Kylee Ault, a 2012 Clay grad, was a member of that squad, which finished second to national champion Hofstra University. The Falcons turned the tables this year.
BGSU’s co-ed squad captured the 2014 national title Jan. 18 in Orlando, Fla., beating runner-up Hofstra and third-place Southeastern Louisiana. Hofstra had won the last five national titles and eight of the last 11.
“Once we got there, we really did realize we were the team to beat,” said Ault, a sophomore. “In the finals, the top three schools all had the best routines. Hofstra put out their best routine and we still beat it. We went out there and hit our routine as great as we possibly could. We nailed it. It was unbelievably satisfying. We knew we couldn’t have done anything more.”
It has been quite a ride for the 5-foot-5 Ault, who was not a cheerleader at Clay. She took up gymnastics at age 8 and became one of the top prep gymnasts in the state by her sophomore year. Her gymnastics background, naturally, helped her morph into a member of a national champion 16-person college cheerleading squad.
“This year I was kind of in the ‘versatile’ role,” Ault said. “I’m a top girl for stunting, which is where if a guy would hold my feet and I would stand in the air. This year it was basically, we’re going to throw Kylee wherever we need people. I am a top girl for stunts and a middle layer. We do pyramids and three people are stacked on top of each other. I was the second person. We have another separate part of the routine where I was the third person at the top of the pyramid. I like the versatility, doing different things instead of the same thing over and over.”
Ault said this year’s BGSU squad talked about last year’s second-place finish at Nationals “a lot.” Winning this year’s title was even sweeter, given the fact that all four male members of the 2013 squad had graduated.
“For Small Co-Ed, which is our division, there are four guys on the mat and 12 girls,” Ault said. “All four guys from last year were gone and we knew we had some work to do filling those spots. We were elated with second last year, but we felt that would have been our year to clinch the title. When that didn’t happen, we were ready to work for whatever we could get this year.
“At the beginning of training for Nationals, we sat down and looked at everybody and said there weren’t any superstars, just good players. We declared ourselves the Dream Team because as a whole, we had something special that other teams didn’t have. We just have that family bond, that atmosphere in the gym where we were willing to do whatever we could to benefit the other people on the mat.”
Ault said she and her teammates prepared for Nationals by practicing six hours a day for three weeks over Christmas break.
“Three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon,” she said. “It was rough. It was body-beating, that’s for sure. But, you have to do it.”
Gymnastics taught Ault discipline, hard work and the benefits of repetition, but as a cheerleader she had to learn to work alongside several teammates. One of Ault’s childhood gymnastics friends, Molly Dedo, is an Oregon resident who attended St. Ursula Academy. Dedo competes for BGSU’s all-girl cheerleading squad and introduced Ault to the sport.
“I thought, ‘I’ll give that a shot,’ ” Ault said, “and it turned out to be a great opportunity for me. Gymnastics definitely helped me out in some areas, and in others it did no good. Just the overall body awareness I had to develop with gymnastics carried over to cheerleading, but the skills we do in cheerleading are totally different because you rely on what other people do. You’re not just relying on yourself.”
Bowling Green’s head cheerleading coach, Anne Marie King, a former BGSU cheerleader, said Ault has been a fine addition to the squad.
“BGSU is fortunate to have Kylee as a member of our cheer program,” King said. “Above all, Kylee is a true ambassador of the university. Kylee is a great example of a team player and role model both inside and outside of the gym. Her natural athletic ability combined with her leadership skills make her an asset to our program.”
The Falcons are the first Mid-American Conference squad to win a national cheerleading championship. The 2014 finals program will air on ESPN this spring.
BGSU’s all-girl cheer squad, which includes Dedo and Clay grad Kelsey Brandeberry, and its dance team also competed in Orlando. The all-girl squad placed ninth in the semifinals in its division, and the dance team placed in the top 20 in Jazz in Division 1A.
For Ault, an exercise science major, hearing her co-ed team being announced as the 2014 national champion was something she will never forget. Twelve teams made it to the finals.
“It was shock, almost,” Ault said. “It was so surreal. We wanted to put out our best routine and we knew we had a chance of winning. When they announced first place, it was unbelievable to know that what we did actually paid off.”