It’s hard to bring the hype into the Kennel when most people aren’t allowed to go into the Kennel. However, this challenge is not stopping the Gonzaga cheerleading team from bringing the hype to the GU community.
While they won’t be cheering “We are GU!” from courtside for the foreseeable future, they are coming up with new and innovative ways to keep that spirit typically seen on the court alive.
The team has been able to continue practicing and preparing to get into the Kennel and have also increased their social media presence to keep the community updated on what they’re doing.
“I stayed up all night and wrote down a bunch of different scenarios,” said Paige Bruland, a captain of the cheer team and a senior at GU. “I wrote down ideas of what we could still do so we could still have that cheer presence and still bring the spirit to Gonzaga.”
Bruland spoke with marketing about writing letters to alumni to thank them for their support, making virtual fan videos, ideas for community events and making a TikTok.
They also partnered with the Kennel Club to teach students new cheers and traditions each week. This has included teaching “Zombie Nation,” “The Hum” and the “We are GU” cheer.
By doing this, the cheer team not only reasserted their presence on campus but found ways to keep team morale up.
“We started doing all these things and it really lifted everyone’s spirits,” Bruland said. “It didn’t feel like we were working for nothing anymore. It felt like we’re modifying and preparing for our season, whatever it may look like.”
Bruland and co-captain Jacob Evanger have had to pivot quickly because their roles have changed immensely this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the past the captains and I are constantly thinking about game day,” said Michelle Wilson, coach of GU cheerleading. “They have been very creative trying to come up with ways to keep team morale up because we don’t know if we’re ever going to see a game day.
“They’re constantly trying to figure out a fun trick to put on Instagram or what game can we do at the end of practice to still learn skills but get everyone laughing. They both have a real lighthearted goofiness to both of them which I think makes them great leaders.”
Wilson, Bruland and Evangers’ mentalities have transferred over to the team. Wilson said everyone bought into the protocol immediately and was willing to do whatever was necessary to continue practicing.
“They’re so thankful to be in the gym and be together,” Wilson said. “They got used to the masks pretty quickly. No one is complaining or whining about it because they get to be there. They’re happy to do anything to get into the Kennel and they know that’s the end goal.”
With each passing week the goal of getting into the Kennel gets closer. Throughout the semester the team has been able to go from practicing outside in pods of five, to being inside in pods, to practicing with half the team, to eventually the whole team being able to practice together for their full two-hour practice, three times a week.
“Now that we’ve gotten into full team practices something that’s really cool is seeing how well the freshman and younger people are doing and how quickly they’re learning,” Evanger said. “Also, it’s cool to see how quickly the upperclassmen are getting back into it even without having camp and having full team practices for most of the year.”
The team makes sure to be extra diligent in following their COVID-19 protocol because they know if one fails to follow it, it could ruin their progress, Wilson said.
“They’re being very cautions and careful with each other,” Wilson said. “They know that if they are not following the rules it could shut us all down. They have been tightening their friend groups and they’re all being as careful as they can.”
The team has to wear masks throughout all of practice. Wilson said she thought there would be push back about this but there has been none. They haven’t complained at all, they just need to take some extra breaks to catch their breath.
“They bought in immediately. I don’t have any of them ever push back on the rules,” Wilson said. “I don’t have to remind them to take it seriously, they do it themselves.”
They do this because the ultimate goal is to be back on the Kennel floor at some point during this basketball season.
“It’s fun to be in the Kennel and it’s fun to get timeouts and show off new skills but our job is to support our men’s and women’s basketball teams and keep their energy up and make it harder for the opposing teams,” Wilson said. “That’s our job and that’s what we want to do.”
Overall, the team is just grateful they still get to practice together. They want to get to the Kennel but will ultimately be happy as long as the team can stay together.
“This team, Jacob and Paige, they have done such a good job making everything OK and finding the positive,” Wilson said. “I’ve learned so much from watching how resilient they’ve been through all of this.”