The collegiate career of Kaci Hohenthaner has taken a tumble – but not like that. The volleyballer turned cheer performer has followed a unique path while capitalizing on a decidedly unique set of skills. She can serve, she can pass, yes, she can tumble, and she’s a future marketer.
Concordia Volleyball Head Coach Ben Boldt knew about the volleyball skills. He had first recruited her while an assistant at Iowa Western Community College, located in Hohenthaner’s hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa. When Hohethaner decided to bring her talents to Concordia, the volleyball program got more than what met the eye.
“I have to be honest with you, I didn’t know that she could tumble when we recruited her,” Boldt said. “I figured that out my first year here when I saw her do it in front of the student section (at a basketball game). Everyone was like, ‘Kaci, do your tumbling. Do your tumbling.’ I saw her going across and everyone was cheering. That was my introduction to knowing that she could do that. She’s an all-around kid.”
At the time, Concordia Head Cheer & Dance Coach Mandi Maser had no idea that Hohenthaner would soon be a valued member of a cheer team that is currently soaring to new heights. As Maser will tell you, she is willing to let Hohenthaner compete as long as she wants (and has eligibility). The Lewis Central High School alum played volleyball for two seasons at Concordia (2018 and 2019) before making the switch.
No other Bulldog in school history has ever competed in both varsity volleyball AND varsity cheer. Hohenthaner has been passionate about both athletic pursuits for several years, she just didn’t necessarily expect her college career to veer away from volleyball.
“Mandi didn’t know I could tumble until (Associate AD) Angela (Muller) was talking to her about it,” Hohenthaner said. “They had me tumble at a basketball game one night. After that Mandi asked me if I had ever cheered before and I said, ‘Yeah, I used to do competitive cheer a long time ago.’ After that it wasn’t even a question. She said I was more than welcome to join the team.”
Hohenthaner turned down the offer at first, but she accepted a second invite when the cheer team experienced an injury. A couple of months after completing her college volleyball career, Hohenthaner made her official collegiate cheer debut at the Concordia Cheer & Dance Invite on Feb. 1, 2020. The Bulldogs placed fourth out of six teams, but that was just a start.
In some ways, Hohenthaner had to get her body to re-learn some of the movements and routines that are far different than those required in a volleyball match.
“It was definitely different because I hadn’t tumbled in over five years,” Hohenthaner said. “During our talent show for volleyball, I did a couple back handsprings, but I hadn’t done stunting since my senior year of high school in 2016. It was a big jump of getting back into it. At the same time, I grew up doing that so my body knew the movements.”
The rhythmically-inclined Hohenthaner even taught members of the volleyball team how to do “The Git Up” dance during an early season volleyball classic in 2019. Of course, Hohenthaner took center stage during the filming of the team’s rendition of the popular dance. On the court, she saw action in 201 sets over two seasons and helped the 2019 Bulldogs reach the national round of 16.
Maser’s introduction to Hohenthaner may have been a spontaneous tumbling performance at a basketball game, but this was no gimmick. Hohenthaner had grown up honing her skills at Elite Cheer in Omaha. She had gotten comfortable in this type of setting for eight years. As friend of the gym’s owner, Maser did not have to work too hard to find a positive reference in regards to Hohenthaner’s talents and work ethic.
“He let me know how much of a leader and how hard of a worker Kaci was,” Maser said. “I also talked with Angie and Ben (Boldt) to see if they would allow her to dual the next season, once she completed volleyball. They were on board with supporting Kaci’s ambitions. Kaci came on in November of 2019 and jumped in with the team. Right away she had a lot of influence within our team dynamic. She helped us reach a higher competitive edge.”
Hohenthaner has experienced her share of winning with the Iowa Western and Concordia Volleyball programs. A natural leader, Hohenthaner wanted to put her leadership qualities to use with the cheer team, but do so in a respectful way without infringing upon the athletes that had already been inside the program. Hohenthaner had to learn about the demands Maser would have and the differences between college cheer and the “all-star” cheer she grew up with.
“I try to be a leader as much as possible,” Hohenthaner said. “I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes or anything. I give more ideas than critiques. I let the captains do their thing for sure, but it’s fun to help out and do things I did when I was younger or do things that no one’s even thought of.”
No one thought Hohenthaner would eventually compete for the cheer team when she first arrived in the fall of 2018. When the Boldts were hired at Concordia, Hohenthaner reached out to ask if there might be an opportunity. Ben Boldt had recruited Hohenthaner to Iowa Western before Ben and Angie relocated to Hendrix College in Conway, Ark.
Concordia turned out to be a fit. As Hohenthaner said, “I came here because it was close to home, a super fun environment, and I love the school.”
That pride in being a Concordia Bulldog has made a three-year run in navy and white a special one for Hohenthaner, who has played a role in lifting up the fortunes of two totally different athletic programs. Said Maser, “We’ve built a much more competitive team and Kaci has contributed to that a lot. She has so much drive in her and she gets the energy going in practice. She’s been influential for every member of the team.”
This season of competitive cheer will mark the end of Hohenthaner’s time as a collegiate athlete. She’s made the most out of it with four volleyball seasons and at least parts of two cheer seasons. An internship with the Lincoln Salt Dogs and a future full of promise await. Says Hohenthaner, “It’s kind of an up-in-the-air type of thing.”
Whatever the future holds, she’s clearly left a positive mark at Concordia. Added Ben Boldt, “She is one of those kids that is always pushing the limits of what she can do.”