With the 157th Lehigh-Lafayette Rivalry game tomorrow, the Lehigh University Cheerleaders are preparing for their most important performance of the season.
This fall is the squad’s first season back in action since 2019, after COVID-19 left them unable to cheer in 2020.
Lexi Perez, junior captain of the squad, said she and her fellow captains recruited an almost entirely new team this year, as there were only three returning cheerleaders.
“It has been a little tough trying to build the team up basically from the bottom with all new girls, but we have been practicing hard, teaching new dances and putting on a great face at the games,” Perez said.
Training the new team members coupled with the year-long hiatus has not slowed the team down. Perez said the cheerleaders have been practicing two to three times a week since August and attending home football games, along with men’s and women’s basketball games.
Senior Hannah Gotwalt said she was devastated when the team was unable to practice or perform last year, and is grateful to be back together.
“Not being able to cheer last year put everything in perspective for me because this is my last year ever being able to cheer,” she said. “It made me realize just how much I was going to miss it when I graduate so I feel like I have taken a lot more advantage of this year and cherished the time that I have.”
Gotwalt said the team has been preparing for The Rivalry game by ramping up practices and testing new stunts.
“For The Rivalry game we are definitely trying to go for some more difficult (stunts) and we want to look more polished than usual, since it is the biggest game of the year,” Gotwalt said.
Leading up to the game, the squad participates in Spirit Week traditions like “Eco-flame,” where the Marching 97 and the cheer team burst into classrooms, dining halls and Greek chapter houses to perform for the Lehigh student body.
The tradition was founded in the 1970s when Professor Rich Aaronson asked the band to play for his ECO 001 class.
Perez said Eco-flame is her favorite tradition on the cheer squad.
“It is so much fun because we get to stand on the tables and dance with the band,” Perez said. “Getting to see students’ faces when we go into their class is the best thing and it gets everyone hyped up for the game.”
Even with major performances like the Lehigh-Lafayette football game and Eco-flame tradition during Spirit Week, the cheerleaders find time to calm each other’s nerves.
Freshman Sara Menand said when she gets nervous before big games, the returning cheerleaders are there to support her.
“I’ve been cheering for about six years now, and have cheered at some large venues in high school so I’m pretty used to larger crowds,” Menand said. “When I do get nervous, the captains and upperclassmen are there for me and very good about filling me in with what to expect, and that helps me to prepare.”
Leading up to the game this weekend, Perez said the squad will spend more time together so that team members feel confident.
Despite the nerves, the squad is looking forward to cheering on the Mountain Hawks from the sidelines this Saturday.
“We are hoping to engage the crowd and make the game more exciting and I think that is super beneficial not only for the school but for the players as well,” Menand said.