NMMU Varsity Sports cheerleaders defend title

JANUARY 27, 2016

Gymnastics, acrobatics and dance are woven into the gravity-defying routine expertly delivered by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Varsity Sports cheerleaders, the reigning national champions.

This week (Thursday, 28 January) sees them jetting off to North-West University in Potchefstroom to defend their title and showcase their moves, which include plenty of American-style flying and throwing, at times 6m to 10m in the air, in the hopes of returning home with the trophy once more.

The cheerleading championships take place alongside this week’s Varsity Cricket T20 tournament in Potchefstroom, where NMMU Madibaz have already clocked up two strong wins against UCT and Stellenbosch. The cheerleading finals take place on Saturday (30 January), coinciding with the cricket finals, making for a double bill of Varsity Sports entertainment.

Squad member and gymnast Bianca Zoonekynd, attained two silver medals at the Trampoline and Tumbling World Championships (2010 and 2011). In 2013, she broke the world record in the highest difficulty level of the open women’s routine on double-mini trampoline – a record she still holds.

“Our routine is a balance of dance, stunts and pyramids. Training is rigorous and the pressure is immense – precision is key,” says NMMU Varsity Sports cheerleader manager Nicki Ann Rayepen. “We pride ourselves on working really hard – and there is such a lovely team spirit.”

The squad of 24 members, including 15 women and nine men, have been practising their routine for three to four hours each weekday, and six hours on Saturdays and Sundays, to prepare for the country’s second national championships, in which eight university squads will compete.

The South African Majorette and Cheerleading Association (SAMCA) is judging the event.

Squad captain Greshen Ahrens, a third-year education student, said the squad aimed to perfect the moves SAMCA had prescribed for the competition. “We will present them in the diverse style for which NMMU is known … With everything we do, we always question: Will this be enough to defend our title? All the university teams are great.”

Rayepen said NMMU’s biggest competition would probably be the University of KwaZulu-Natal. “They didn’t participate in the inaugural competition last year, but they have competed internationally and are ranked seventh in the world.”

To grow the number of cheerleaders at NMMU and also promote the sport, which first kicked off at the university in 2014, NMMU last year launched its first Cheerleading Society, housed in the University’s department of arts and culture, which is a training ground for championship squad cheerleaders.

Rayepen said she hoped the success of the squad and the new society would encourage students with a gymnastic or dance background to study at NMMU.

Varsity Sports cheerleading is sponsored by Samsung and administrated by Sports 4U.

PHOTO CAPTION: Flying High… Reigning Varsity Sports national cheerleading champs, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, prepare to defend their title in Potchefstroom this weekend.