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Cheer and Dance Teams to Compete at National Championships This Weekend

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona dance and cheers teams will travel to Orlando, Fla., to compete in the 2012 College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships at the Walt Disney World Resort  Jan. 13-15.

"The goal every year is to make finals and really make it through to the second day," said Cheer, Dance and mascot Director Cassie Laughlin. "Being in Division I we are going against schools that are bigger than we are. We just want to perform to the best of our ability and leave there feeling that everything they worked for really paid off."

Both teams compete at Lumberjack games throughout the year while working on their routines for the championships. Qualifying teams from across the country will compete in this prestigious event. The weekend competition will include cheer and dance teams from Division I, Division II, Division IA and Junior College levels. The cheer competition includes mascots, partner stunt, coed partner stunt, small coed, all girl cheer teams. The dance competition includes, jazz, hip hop and pom categories.

"We  have a lot of hard work doing all our material for games and making sure we are at every game supporting athletics," said Laughlin. "On other side, we are at practice learning these two other dances, while cheer is doing a whole separate routine, something different than what we do during the season."

Dance captain Hannah Degnan says the dance team is ready for their performance.

"We have been preparing since September when we learned our routines," said junior Hannah Degnan, a product of Phoenix Horizon High School and dance team co-captain. "We are so excited and have been working hard. We are pretty pumped."

The teams will have rehearsals on Friday and competition on Saturday with an opportunity to advance to the finals. The jazz semifinals and finals are both contested on Saturday. ESPN televises the competition on a tape-delayed basis later this year.

The teams have been preparing in Flagstaff since Jan. 2 over the winter break and are excited for the cross country trip to Florida.

"I am looking forward to see what the other schools are bringing and their level of competition" said dance co-captain Roshelle Stulz. "It is always so exciting to see how hard everybody has worked. It is fun to be around everybody and watch other school's dances.

The dance team finished 12th in the nation for Division 1 Jazz at the UDA College Nationals in 2011, the highest finish in program history. The team finished 14th in 2010.

"We are hoping to move up this year," said Laughlin. "That goes for both dance categories. Our goal is to make finals but the top 10 placement is where we want to be. For cheer it is to make to finals and get through to that second day."

The team will perform both a jazz and hip-hop routine in the completion and have performed both at recent basketball games.

"We are ready to perform for a bigger audience and see how good our team can do since we have been working so hard," said Degnan, who is in her third year on the team.

 Both routines have specific choreography and difficulty that has taken hours of practice to perfect.

"I like both of them a lot this year," said Stulz. "Our hip hop choreography is new this year. We are really excited about that one. It is a crowd pleaser, up-beat and really high energy. The jazz routine is super powerful and really moving."

The cheer team will compete this weekend in the Small Coed Division I category on Saturday.

"The cheer team will do a combination of everything you see during the season at nationals but at a different level of difficulty," said Laughlin. "At nationals, there are a lot more things they can do that have higher difficulty than are really allowed at games. They are practicing different stunts and using your body continuously with a big group. Their routine consists of tumbling, stunting and they have a cheer portion."  

The finals are streamed at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday on the internet on Varisty.com.

Dance Co-Captains Hannah Degnan and Rochelle Stulz will provide a blog about their experiences in Florida on the NAU Athletics blog.