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IU’s Crimson Squad cheerleaders win fifth national title in six years

Jan. 25, 2017

For the fifth time in the past six years, IU’s Crimson Squad cheerleaders have taken home a national championship trophy.

Of 18 teams competing in the University Cheerleaders Association Division 1-A All Girl Championship competition, IU’s squad came out on top, literally, by stacking cheerleaders up to create 11 structures during a two-and-a-half-minute routine, developed by assistant head coach Tony Nash.

IU Crimson squad

IU's all-girl cheerleading Crimson Squad poses with the national championship trophy they earned in January. | PHOTO BY COREY ANDERSON, IU CHEERLEADING PROGRAM ASSISTANT

“Those ladies are no joke,” said Julie Horine, their head coach.

Horine knows from personal experience. She cheered for IU during her time as a student and has been coaching since 1985. Two of her assistant coaches, Liz Cross and Kristen Zupancic, were cheerleaders coached by Horine.

She’s been there for each of the five national championships, and she said every win is special.

“It never gets old,” she said. “It’s so humbling. I don’t care if it’s the fifth time or the first time, it takes days for it to sink in.” 

The 34 women on the squad have been preparing for the competition since their first practice in April, and at each game where they support IU’s athletic teams, they are working on various aspects of the routine.

“To say what they do is difficult is an understatement,” Horine said.

With only the strength of their bodies, legs, hands and shoulders the women create pyramids, perform partner stunts, tumble and dance. Their movements are also choreographed to music.

To compete against other college cheerleading teams, they prepare both mentally and physically.

For Kelsey Werling, a senior on the squad and a telecommunications major, developing the mental toughness needed to win is what she’s done during her four years and what she shares with younger members of the team. 

“It’s a lot on your body, throwing people for nearly six hours a day,” she said of practicing over winter break to get ready for the competition. “You have to stay really positive and focused on the end goal.”

During her senior year, Werling took on a leadership role, which made winning the national championship extra special this year. Werling is one of three seniors on the squad, and she felt being part of such a young team was an opportunity to see growth.

“As a young team, it was so awesome to see us grow together, not only as team members but as sisters and family,” she said. 

The cheerleaders think of Horine “like our mama at school,” Werling said. “She really values each of us.”

For the technical side of the routine the cheerleaders turn to Nash. “He doesn’t coach us like we’re an all-girl cheerleading team. He coaches us like we’re athletes,” she said.

IU cheerleaders

IU cheerleaders perform at an athletic event. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IU ATHLETICS

Werling credits her coaches for not only making the team feel like a family, but also for teaching the women skills applicable beyond their time at IU.

“They try to mold us as human beings, grown adults and Hoosiers,” she said. “We’re not only learning about cheerleading when we’re at practice; we’re learning about life lessons whether we know it or not.” 

IU’s Crimson Squad boasts an average 3.4 grade-point average, and members are volunteers choosing to join the team and practice three times a week without scholarships.

Even though Werling has been on the winning side of the national competition before, earning a trophy in her senior year was a unique experience. 

“I really had a lot of pride in our university that I had the opportunity to represent IU and the 33 amazing girls next to me had the opportunity to represent our university,” she said. “I just think I cheer for the greatest school in the country, and I could never repay anyone for what IU has given to me. It’s been the most enriching and rewarding experience of my life.” 

The squad's dedication aligns with several priorities in the university's Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success.

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