By Michael Schroth
At the end of 2017, when the first drafts of the WSU Cheer Team’s charter got rejected, President Olivia Petrucci faced a choice: she could either call it quits or continue to fight. The then-freshman OT major chose the latter.
“I was motivated by the people,” Petrucci explained. “I realized it wasn’t just me. It was 25 other girls I was fighting for that wanted the opportunity to cheer in college.”
Petrucci has had to amend the cheer team’s charter several times to make it more conducive to WSU. She’s faced setbacks with funding, coaching, finding a location to practice, and a plethora of other issues. Getting a club sport fully operational quickly enough to hold tryouts is no small task, but by her sophomore year, Petrucci’s team was competing.
It’s clear that there’s no room for selfishness when you’re a member of the WSU Cheer Team. From the president to the coaches, and all the way down through the ranks of determined athletes, it appears everyone is working hard for something greater than themselves.
Strong leadership—though it permeates deeply into the team—starts at the top, and President Petrucci seems to command a lot of respect.
“Olivia is actually an unbelievable leader,” said Assistant Coach David Hill. “I don’t think ‘president’ is really a good word. I think ‘leader’ is a better word … I can’t rave enough about how well she does as a leader … Anything you look for in a captain or a leader, Olivia definitely has all of those things.”
One way in which Petrucci leads is by example. She’s fearless and clearly a tough competitor.
“I do basket tosses, main stunts,” she explained. “I tumble, I jump, I stunt. Pretty much anything [the coaches] need me to do, I can learn.”
Head Coach Mori Voyer also has nothing but good things to say about Petrucci as a leader.
“Olivia has been a huge driving force on the team,” she said. “She started the team, got it back in the university … She has done a lot to represent the team both on the university campus and off. She’s an excellent representative; she’s very professional.”
Petrucci isn’t the only person stepping up in a big way. Both coaches work hard and so do the team members.
“There’s technically no one leader,” said Selena Nguyen, a sophomore business administration major. “We all contribute in our own ways.”
The Season in Retrospect
In their first season last year, WSU Cheer placed first at a few competitions but didn’t compete nationally. Despite that, Petrucci called the first season “amazing.” In comparison, she called this past season “a struggle.”
The past season was anything but a cakewalk, due to issues with money, coaching, and members leaving. The squad had to work for every inch, and they are proud of what they were able to accomplish.
Veronica Long, a sophomore CSD major, was particularly struck by the team’s success given the diversity of skills on her team.
“The season was definitely very hard,” she said. “It was not easy getting here. Being such a new team, just working with the range of skills we have was very challenging. I’m honestly surprised and super impressed with how far we got … So many obstacles, with people quitting the team and having to move stuff around last minute.”
Despite the difficulties, Long went on to explain how proud she was of her team after this tough season.
“We’re super dynamic,” she said. “As a D3 team, we came together fairly well. We put together whatever skills we could, what we have, and we made it work. We got to where we are because of how dynamic we are. How new the team is, I’m very impressed by us.”
Hill shares Long’s enthusiasm for the team’s success.
“I’m super proud of these girls,” he said. “One thing about this team is they’re super hard workers. From where they were in November (when I came in) to where they are now, I’m super impressed. I couldn’t be prouder as a coach.”
One highlight of the past season was finishing with the highest score for college teams in the area at the season’s first event, the East Coast Classic. Another was making it to Nationals in Ocean City, Maryland, something the squad hadn’t done in its first season. Despite having to change part of their routine last minute because of an injury, WSU Cheer placed third. Petrucci and company wrapped up the season with a first place win at UNH on April 14.
These successes are not lost on Voyer.
“They have have made themselves known in the New England region now as a team to be reckoned with and as a team that’s going to compete at a higher level,” she said. “That’s been very exciting for them.”
During the team’s final practice on April 18, senior Kacey Maxner, who usually cheers as a base and lifts people up, was herself lifted way up into the air and hit a heel stretch. It was her first time flying.
“Fly for your last time!” the girls cheered on the senior early childhood education and psychology major. She was all smiles after the stunt.
Petrucci said this example was emblematic of the atmosphere of the whole season, particularly Nationals.
“They had a ton of fun at Nationals this year,” she said. “We had some girls try some new things this year that they weren’t really comfortable with. We had girls who were bases go flying up in the air … I’m very proud that they were willing to try new things, that they were flexible when things would change. They were very readily able to adapt to the competitive sport of cheerleading in college.”
Despite the rocky nature of their second season, Voyer is optimistic about the future.
“Being only the second year, it’s been a really good growth year,” she said. “They have really started to put themselves out there. They competed at some events that have all-star teams present, so it’s giving them a good name. People are starting to notice us. I feel like we’re going to have a lot more student athletes coming to try out.”
More than Just a Team
There’s a consensus among the coaches and the members that WSU Cheer is something special. One word that they often use to describe themselves is “family.”
“I like this team because we’re all friends,” said Maeve McDonagh, English major and club treasurer. “I feel like, a lot of times on cheer teams, people can make cliques. I feel like this team is a family; we’re all together.”
Sara Jedrzynski said the members of the squad are able to bond remarkably fast.
“We’re special because we’ve grown so close to each other in such a short amount of time,” she said. “A lot of sports teams—or teams in general—have a long period of time to get to know one another, and normally the same group of kids can stay on the same team together for a couple of seasons, but we start pretty much a fresh slate. We don’t really know each other. And then we bond really quickly. We get to be friends really quickly. Everybody’s just super nice and friendly, which makes it easy.”
Like with any family, there are times when things aren’t all sunshines and rainbows. But through it all, family is family, no matter what. That seems to be the atmosphere in everyone’s head at WSU Cheer.
“I would call us a family,” said Long. “I mean, we fight so much because we’re all very alike. We definitely bump heads, but it’s just because we’re close.”
Hill said the team tries to stay as family oriented-as possible, making sure there are good vibes all round. He also recognized that the team members are still young adults.
“They’ve got school and other responsibilities,” he said. “We’re conscious of that. Not everyday and every practice is going to go smoothly. We are together a lot, so we just try to be as supportive as we can.”
The WSU Cheer Family is a thriving support group, and that all starts with Voyer.
“She’s brought us together,” said Petrucci. “She’s like a second mom figure to me … She’s the one we always go to. She comes to our e-board meetings. She’s always there at practice. She just tries to support us in and out of practice. I know I could call her in a second if I needed anything. She’s so supportive.”
A lot of eyes will be on WSU Cheer come fall 2019. If this year really was the “growth” year that Voyer said it was, then next year should hold even greater success for the squad. With Petrucci headed into her senior year, one thing is for sure: after she graduates, the family she leaves behind looks bound to take up the reins and continue her legacy of determination and hard work.