LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Only for the Kentucky cheerleading team can one season without a national championship feel like a drought.
Last year, the cheerleaders were named runners-up to Memphis. On Sunday, UK returned to its familiar perch atop the world of college cheerleading.
“When you finally hear second place called and then they call first place, it’s a lot of emotion, a lot of joy,” Jomo Thompson said via cell phone. “We just feel vindicated, especially after coming in second place last year. We wanted to make sure we got back to the top and we did that.”
UK won an unprecedented 20th national title at the UCA/UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship in Orlando, Fla., finishing ahead of second-place UCF. UK has now won an incredible 15 championships since 1995, only being dethroned five times during that span.
“I’m just fortunate to have been a part of this program for so long and I love UK,” said Thompson, the former UK cheerleader who has won eight national titles in his 12 years as head coach. “I love UK cheerleading. I’m just glad I’m here to experience it with the kids. We strive every day to be the best. It’s just a great thing that we’ve won so many times. It just speaks to the history and the tradition of winning and be the best.”
The UCA’s official Twitter account described the winning routine as both starting and finishing strong. Thompson saw much of the same, saying UK’s finals routine was even better than a solid one in Saturday’s preliminary round.
“I think they just really seized the opportunity,” Thompson said. “They didn’t let down. They didn’t take anything for granted. They just did a really good job of going out there and executing and bringing home number 20.”
The championship is the culmination of a year of hard work. UK didn’t drastically alter the formula that has led to so much past success, but a seven-member senior class was intent on going out the right way. Thompson said those veterans played an instrumental role in setting the tone for UK’s training.
“We just told the kids, ‘You want to make sure that you’re giving a hundred percent every time, even in practice, because you get one shot, one opportunity,’ ” Thompson said. “So you want to experience as many as things that can go wrong, encounter all those things in practice so if something like that happens at nationals, you’re ready for it. I thought they did a great job this year getting themselves prepared.”
The UK dance team also competed this weekend, turning in an impressive performance in the Division IA Hip Hop finals. UK came in fifth, an improvement from last year’s sixth-place finish. Head coach Dawn Walters reported the team posted a score of 93.2, its best ever.
"The girls had a lot of confidence today when we went out to perform,” Walters said. “They really went out there and had energy and excitement and the whole arena really went crazy when they were up there. Our degree of difficulty was higher this year than last year and we had a lot of group tricks. I think their confidence was the biggest thing this year.”