The BYU Cougarettes perform in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes
PROVO — Something strange happened last year when the BYU Cougarettes traveled to the National Dance Association and National Cheer Association Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida.
They lost, finishing second overall, in the Jazz Division – by two tenths of a point.
And it’s not that the dancers felt disappointed with a second place in one of their best disciplines – they still won the hip hop category in the IA division, after all, and celebrated the 20th title. National History Program.
But working hard is a norm, improving is a norm and winning has become a norm in Provo. So, a few weeks after their return to Utah, the Cougarettes got back to work.
Practice every morning, afternoon and evening; additional sessions long after co-trainers Stacy Bills and Morgan St. Pierre returned home. The Cougarettes creaked, day after day, six days a week.
And last Saturday, everything paid off.
Instead of the celebratory shot with a championship trophy, the Cougarettes got two, with scores of 96.9714 in Jazz beating second-place West Virginia by more than two points, and a 98, 5286 in hip hop for their third straight championship since 2019 (2020 championships were canceled due to COVID-19).
“We came back with a vengeance,” said Bills, who won his third national title as a coach to accompany two of his days with the team. “We had so many supporters who were there; it was a real national with thousands of people everywhere.
“Last year it was two tenths of a point that separated second and first,” she added during an ESPN radio appearance in Utah County. “A lot of our motivation this year was on small tweaks; don’t let anything slip. … It gave this ride that was crazy. We were finishing a three-hour practice, I was leaving, and half of my team was still in the studio and kept working Win or lose, they didn’t want to look back and say they hadn’t done everything they could.
It’s not that the Cougarettes expect to come in and win every year. But with 14 championships since 2011, there is a standard at BYU. And the team, who all had to try to make the team last spring like dancers do every year, felt like they didn’t live up to that standard.
“With the legacy the Cougarettes have created, I would call BYU a school of dance,” said Rachel Hansen, a Corner Canyon product. “Every girl on the team has been training to be a Cougarette since they were 3 years old, just like me.
“It’s a chore. Once you’re on the team, you have to audition every year. We practice six days a week, it’s a total chore, and we feel the unity and the hard work so that we train every day together.”
Climbing to the top of Jazz Mountain, the Cougarettes also did things they had never done, jumps they had never attempted, turns they had never attempted, 360s complete that had other teams gasping.
When the Cougarettes enter a competition, they can feel all eyes on the backs of the jackets, Hansen said. Meeting the standard set by generations before them can be a pressure, but pressure is also a privilege. Each year, they feel compelled to do something new, to surpass themselves compared to the previous year. This year, that feeling has multiplied exponentially.
“We’ve never done anything quite like any of them,” Hansen told BYUtv of the jazz and hip-hop routines. “In Jazz, we normally take a more lyrical route, but this year was more contemporary. Everything was very different.
“It was comforting to know that we were taking a risk, and we’ll see what works.”
Bills said she could usually find a mistake or a small improvement to make, maybe even a reason to criticize each of her team’s performances. But that was hard to do in the Cougarettes’ final performance on “Baseline” choreographed by Shandon Perez.
“It was dominant,” she said. “They didn’t do anything wrong; in all my years I’ve seen few things as perfect as they were (in hip hop). The judges said it was an honor to to be in the presence of that.”
The Cougarettes weren’t the only ones either. Dancers across the Wasatch Front brought home loads of gear from Daytona Beach.
Utah Valley won the Division I national jazz title, beating schools like Sam Houston State, James Madison, California Baptist, and Weber State, while finishing second in hip hop. The Wildcats also finished third in hip hop.
The spirited Wolverines team took first place in the Division I game day routine en route to third place in the all-around to cheers.
“The talent and atmosphere of the NCA college national competition is electric,” said UVU Spiritual Team Director Kati Marsing. “And our students were just amazing. Their hard work, courage and determination paid off with outstanding performances. We are very proud of them.”
Weber State won its fifth consecutive national championship in Division I wide coed cheer, posting a final score of 98.55 to win the event by nearly four points. The Wildcats also won titles at home in the Little Coed Division I and took the top three individual stunt spots.
Wasatch Front’s top-to-bottom talent was certainly something to behold in the return flight from Daytona Beach to Salt Lake International.
“It’s interesting how talent begets talent,” Bills said. “If you have a demographic that is good at something, it spreads to that area. And then you have more people moving into the area and making hip hop or jazz more accessible. propagate.”