On quiet upper campus yesterday evening, an eager crowd gathered to support the Pitt cheerleaders and Dance Team. Under the bright lights of the Petersen Events Center, the teams showcased their polished routines, which will debut at the National Cheer Association and National Dance Association Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championships later this week.
Both teams will escape Pittsburgh’s rainy forecast April 4 to fly to sunny Daytona Beach, Florida, and will stay until results April 7. Theresa Nuzzo, head coach of the teams for more than 35 years, will once again oversee both squads.
“They’re a terrific group, very hardworking, very talenting,” Nuzzo said, “They are great ambassadors for the University.”
The teams will receive support from the athletic director’s office on the trip, as Kelly Brennan, the new executive director for strategic initiatives and engagement under Director of Athletics Heather Lyke, will also accompany Nuzzo and her teams to Florida this year.
The Dance Team will compete in the Division 1A performance team dance category, highlighting three different segments: jazz, hip-hop and pom. The team of 28 sends 20 members each year to Daytona for its biggest event of the season.
One of the team’s choreographers, Stephanie Wanamaker, put together the jazz and pom segments, while Tracy Zangaro Indof — another team choreographer — put together hip-hop. The team aims to be well-rounded, performing in 30-second increments for each category.
Nuzzo explained this complex routine when she introduced this year’s squad to the mixed crowd of family, friends and faculty. Plenty of alumni were also present, including Kayla Raber, a Dance Team alumna who was there supporting the team after graduating last year.
“They look great, confident,” Raber said, “I’m happy to see them go down [to Daytona].”
Following the dance squad’s performance at the Petersen Events Center, the crowd moved up the hill to Trees Hall, where the cheer squad performed its routine. The cheer team will compete as a Division 1A small coed group. Nuzzo noted how the squad’s routine heavily focuses on the use of signs, megaphones and flags alongside its usual steps and flips.
The cheer team will compete this year following an off season in 2017. Sophomore flyer Francheska Pokora discussed how the team is determined to do well in competition.
“I’m looking forward to representing the University, because that’s not something that we did last year,” she said, “I think we’re really prepared this year.”
Corinne Repcheck, a Dance Team member not on the competition squad, came to support both groups. She said this is the first time her Dance Team did a full run-through with costume, makeup and hair done as if the dancers were competing in the Florida event.
“We came out because it’s absolutely imperative that we support the team,” Repcheck said, “Obviously they’ve worked so hard.”
Coach Nuzzo detailed this hard work by describing additional practices her team takes on in order to properly prepare for the competition. She describes Pitt as a primarily “game day team” that trains extensively for its one competition each year.
The intense training schedule includes daily practices, often as early as 5:30 a.m., starting in February to prepare for the competition. Monica O’Neil, a junior on the dance squad, will compete this year for the third time. Both the cheer and dance teams have achieved top-ten finishes in past years, and O’Neil’s goal is to break the top five.
“This year, we are all really excited about it,” O’Neil said, “It’s a really fun atmosphere.”
The championships in Florida include performances throughout the day beginning at 8:30 a.m., when teams compete one after another on the main stages.
“We’ve been putting in a lot of time,” Pokora said, “I think it’s going to pay off.”
The Panthers will have their first performance at 9:22 a.m. on Thursday, with coverage on the NCA and NDA Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship website.