Head Coach: Mandi Maser (5th year); 2020 GPAC Cheer Coach of the Year
2020 GPAC Finish: 6th/7
2020 NAIA Northwest Finish: 6th/7
2021 Captains: Josie O’Laughlin (Jr.); Cora Rhode (Sr.).
Competition week is upon the Concordia University Cheer program, which returned to campus a week early in order to hit the practice gym hard. Named the 2020 GPAC Cheer Coach of the Year, Mandi Maser enters her fifth season leading the Bulldogs. Despite placing sixth in the conference a year ago, members of the team are confident they’re on the right track.
Maser’s team will be captained by junior Josie O’Laughlin and senior Cora Rhode. They will lead a squad hopeful of making a jump into the top three of the GPAC in 2021.
“The cheer program has improved a ton,” Maser said. “This will be our fifth year of stunting. We’re getting to the point where we can really increase the difficulty because of the growth we’ve had in terms of athleticism and strength and conditioning. We’re getting stronger student-athletes into the program and we’re seeing that confidence develop. We’re building trust between each other. This team has improved quite a bit compared to where we ended last year.”
Rhode is just one of three seniors on the cheer roster. The others are Kaci Hohenthaner and Lanessa Kerner. A native of Fort Morgan, Colo., Rhode is tasked with the role of back base while helping foster the success of flyers like O’Laughlin. Like Maser, Rhode has seen dramatic progress within the program. That progress goes beyond what the scores say on competition dates.
It takes time to master any routine. Sometimes that means two-a-days like the team experienced in the week leading up to the start of the second semester at Concordia.
“A big change I’ve seen since my freshman year is the athleticism of the team,” Rhode said. “We’re doing advanced stunts that we wouldn’t have even attempted my freshman year and that really speaks to the evolution of the program and how Coach Maser has built us up into being an athletic team.”
Both cheer and dance are co-ed sports within the NAIA. Maser has high praise for one of the men of the team, junior Brenden Ingram, an essential component of its success. Ingram missed the spring 2020 semester to participate in military basic training. As Maser put it, “I wish I had about 10 of him.” Maser was also excited to welcome back Hohenthaner, a former volleyball player at Concordia. She has been a major addition in terms of both athletic ability and competitive energy at practice.
In addition, the cheer roster includes seven freshmen. Maser has been impressed by freshman Shelby Timmerman (among others) of Clatonia, Neb. Timmerman already possesses extensive cheer experience and is exceptional at tumbling and flying. Maser described Timmerman as a physically strong athlete.
A native of Winona, Minn., O’Laughlin has made big strides in her time as a Bulldog. Said Maser, “Josie has grown into the role of a cheerleader by leaps and bounds. She’s a pretty talented kid who loves cheer and learns quickly. She’s a great leader for the team spiritually and an encouraging person to be around.”
During the fall semester, members of the cheer team worked the sidelines at football games. Due to COVID-19 protocols, they have not been present at basketball games. Rhode says the team has persevered through the challenges and is eager to begin competition. Said Rhode, “It’s kind of hard for us (not to be on the sidelines) because that’s a big part of cheer. It’s almost as big as competition is. As far as practicing with masks and being safe, I think the team is doing really well in following the guidelines.”
Soon it will be time to see how the work in practice translates to competitions. The Bulldogs want to do their part to continue to bring attention to the growing sport of competitive cheer.
“The popularity of cheer and dance is increasing all the time,” Maser said. “More people are paying attention to it with the NAIA recognizing it as a full sport. Athletes are looking at it as an opportunity to compete and get scholarships to do it. Having trainers, strength and conditioning and all of that dedicated to our sport helps validate it and increases our competitive edge. Our level of talent has improved a lot and we enjoy having the chance to travel and compete against other teams outside the GPAC.”
Concordia will go head-to-head with Mount Marty in a dual on Wednesday (Jan. 13) to open up the season. The Bulldogs will also host Morningside on Saturday with the cheer competition taking place inside the PE Gym. Unfortunately, the Concordia Invitational Tournament has been canceled for 2021, but the program is looking forward to a unique opportunity to compete at the Friends University Day of Duals on Jan. 23. Other notable events include the Concordia Cheer & Dance Invitational on Feb. 6 and the GPAC Cheer & Dance Championships (hosted by Doane) on Feb. 26-27.