For Lehigh’s four senior cheerleaders, one of their favorite memories at Lehigh was cheering at Yankee Stadium for the 150th Lehigh-Lafayette game their sophomore year.
However, because there are no juniors on the team, this memory will graduate with them.
The four freshmen and one sophomore on the team have the opportunity to carry a new memory with them through the rest of their time at Lehigh, as the football team will play Lafayette on Saturday.
Coach Vanessa Rex said the group of nine cheerleaders is the best she’s ever had in her five years coaching at Lehigh. After years of taking women just to increase numbers, it was decided to focus on quality over quantity. She took only women with experience.
“Over the years the team has progressed,” Rex said. “This year they are a more competitive group of girls, they have more experience with all-star cheering. As a sport itself, cheering is gradually going more toward the competitive side, so there is more tumbling, stunting.”
For Dominique Voitek, ’20, this experience is what she hopes will help improve the program.
“I think our experience with cheerleading is definitely a big thing that we, as freshmen, brought to the table this year,” Voitek said. “We need to make sure that we stay committed and keep pushing ourselves to be better and build off this for next year. We want to keep growing as a program.”
Rex was on maternity leave for the majority of the football season and only just returned before the Patriot League Championship. Without a coach, NCAA rules restrict the cheerleaders from stunting.
With Rex’s return, the team immediately started focusing on stunting for the Lehigh-Lafayette game.
“Cheering isn’t really a sport when you’re just standing on the sidelines – anyone can do that – but to put people in the air is what makes it a sport,” team co-captain Emilee Strange, ’17, said. “For the girls who have cheered their whole life, it’s the biggest part of cheerleading.”
While the team has focused on improving their cheerleading skills, they have also been focusing on increasing their visibility on and off campus.
Team co-captain Dara Lakin, ’17, said they will be at the events leading up to the game this week, including Thursday’s bonfire. Additionally, they cheer at events such as Founder’s Day and the first-year rally each year.
To bring Lehigh spirit off campus, they also attend some volunteer events in the Lehigh area. In September, they cheered at a Light the Night walk at the Saucon Valley Promenade.
Strange said they have also focused on building relationships with student-led groups, such as Student Senate and the Association of Student Alumni.
“We want to come together and get involved with everything to make it known that we are here to support everyone,” Strange said. “In doing that, it’s in the hope that we gain a little bit more respect, and from there we can gain respect of authorities too to improve our program.”
The cheerleading team is considered a club sport at Lehigh, and this is something Voitek is hoping to change during her time at Lehigh. The women agree they do too much to not be credited with the ranking of a varsity sport.
For now, the team is setting its sights to cheering at Lafayette’s Fisher Field, something none of the women have ever done. For the past three years, the games have either been played at Goodman or Yankee Stadium.
“It will be a little more intimate because their stadium is a little smaller than ours,” Aminat Ologunebi, ’17, said. “They have a really nice facility, and everything is a lot closer than it is at Lehigh. Where we are standing at Lafayette will be in front of the football player’s parents and the band, which is great because we have more face-to-face contact with the band and we can hear what songs are playing.”