Women’s cheerleading team flying high under the radar

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Team believes they have changed narrative after shining last March

“When I first started, we didn’t necessarily have a good reputation on campus,” said St. Bonaventure University’s cheerleading coach Abbie Bricker. “I hate to say this, but the squad was almost kind of a joke. People didn’t take it seriously, nor did they consider the girls athletes. We had to transform everyone’s opinion.”
That is what it was like for the St. Bonaventure cheerleading team when Bricker first started coaching the team five years ago.
And the team doesn’t seem to care if that stigma is still true or not; Bricker just laughs it off and goes about her business, speaking passionately about what the program has become.
One can often find the team trying to find any gym space and practice time it can get its hands out. Kicking, flipping and stunting with the girls dreaming of their next game day in the Reilly Center. But there are other challenges that lie ahead of Bricker and the team.
Bricker, who was on the cheer team at St. Bonaventure and teaches second grade in Portville, New York, on top of coaching the team here, admits her job is fun, but takes a lot more work than you would think.
“It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work,” said Bricker, class of 2009. “Everybody says we make things look effortless, which is a good thing, but it takes a lot of practicing. One of the hard things is that there is not a whole lot of gym space on campus. During the second semester, we are down to two practices a week if that. The hard part is working around the girls’ schedules and finding gym time that works for everyone.”
Bricker, along with seniors Saige Flickinger and Rebecca Sienko, admit that cheerleading has become more popular over the last couple of years.
“Some years, you don’t have to make a lot of cuts,” said Bricker. “In the past, we have always kept around 20 girls, but this year was different. The administration wanted a bigger squad and to make it more inviting to everyone. We ordered 36 new uniforms last year, and I kept 27 girls this year.”
Flickinger and Sienko also expressed how the team’s experiences last year inspired many more girls to tryout for the team this year. While most of the attention was on the men’s basketball team last March during the team’s historic NCAA tournament run, the cheerleading team was following them every step of the way. From Washington, D.C to Dayton, Ohio, and all the way to Dallas, Texas, the team was there to hype Bona nation up.
“I definitely think that basketball team’s success benefited us,” said Sienko. “They saw that we had this talent to take things to higher levels. We were able to showcase what we had. I think we have a lot of talent this year, which gives us the same opportunity as last year. We can do bigger stunts that can be shown on a bigger showcase.”
While Bricker was unable to travel with her team last March due to her father being hospitalized, she explained the sense of pride she got as she watched her girls get camera attention during the men’s basketball team’s run through March Madness.
“I wasn’t there because my dad was in the hospital,” said Bricker. “But I got so many texts from people that our girls held their own against UCLA’s cheerleaders. It’s amazing to see that girls from small little St. Bonaventure can have that opportunity. By the end of the March Madness run, every doctor and nurse was a Bonnies fan, because they knew that my dad is the biggest Bonnies fan. It was so surreal to watch. I remember sobbing in the ICU room. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing to miss out on and I wish I was there, but I was where I was supposed to be. With my dad.”
Flickinger also added on about the unforgettable experience she had last March. One day you can be a small college girl, and be all over national television during a men’s basketball game in March the next. A common theme and emotion throughout the team when thinking back to last season.
“Cheerleading is stressful,” said Flickinger. “We go to both the men’s and the women’s games. On top of game days, we have practices and schoolwork. Combining everything together, it is a lot to go through in one year. But to go to the Atlantic 10 tournament and possibly even further, it makes everything that was ever hard about cheerleading worth it. We don’t get a whole lot of recognition otherwise, so it was all worth it.”
Although Sienko was still with her team last March, she elaborated on how she had a different experience compared to the rest of her team.
“I actually traveled as the mascot,” said Sienko. “It was a different perspective, but it was cool. People were constantly engaging with me, especially Bonaventure fans. The idea of the whole Bonaventure community is all around us. People from Texas wanted to take a picture with the Bona Wolf, and wanted to engage with our team. People all over were stopping us and asking to take pictures with us. It was surreal.”
In closing, Bricker, Sienko and Flickinger shared their favorite moments as cheerleaders for St. Bonaventure, commonly expressing that there is no better day than gameday at the Reilly Center – where their hard work and preparations pays off, too.
“When you come into the Reilly Center on a game day, and the Bona chant starts – everyone in the arena is so electric,” said Bricker. Anybody can be a fan, but not many people get to sit right on the court and be apart of the action. I always have to take a minute when the game starts and take the environment in. It makes me feel so thankful that this is one of my jobs.”
Sienko says that the overpowering school spirit at Bonaventure was one of the biggest reasons why she chose to come here.
“I picked Bonaventure because of the school spirit,” said Sienko. “Last year when we beat Rhode Island is my favorite memory. The sense of community at that game was amazing. Nobody in the crowd left early, and everybody stormed the court. Everyone wanted to be together in that moment.”
Flickinger, on the other hand, can’t really recall a favorite moment. Instead, she expressed how the sense of togetherness she gets when she is around the team is what she loves the most about being a cheerleader.
“It’s a great team to be on,” said Flickinger. “Rebecca and I met freshman year. We really became friends through cheerleading, and our relationship has lasted all four years. Our team is really close. We’re looking out for each other no matter what goes on. Even outside of practices and game days, we have formals and other events. Just being around a group of people who are so dedicated and motivated, it’s special.”

By Mike Hogan, Sports Editor