Overcoming ‘twisties’ part of Temple cheerleading team’s success

There’s an intense mental part of the sport that the squad overcame to achieve national recognition.

By Miles West

Temple’s Cheerleading team overcame daunting obstacles on its path to a silver-medal performance in the Game Division IA All Girl Game Day routine category at the 2022 Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) National Championships at Walt Disney World in January. 

The Owls were narrowly defeated by Mississippi by just .100 on the judge’s scorecards. Following their National Championship in the competition last year, they supplemented this year’s performance with their first finals appearance in the Traditional category in 10 years, ultimately finishing in sixth place.

“I think one thing that’s the same across all teammates is that we have so much love for the sport and we have so much love for each other,” Jordan Manson, a junior journalism major, said. “I think that’s what keeps us going…you love it so much that it’s like ‘OK, I’m willing to do this for myself and I’m willing to do this for my teammates.”

The team points to its loving environment mixed with its relentless work ethic as what allowed it to become relevant in the national cheerleading landscape.

Manson credited Head Cheerleading Coach Jenna Komosinski for much of the team’s recent accolades.  

“Cheer is like an art, honestly,” Manson said. “It’s a performance, and Jenna has a mastermind. She’s a genius.”

The intricate routines organized by Komosinski, alongside the team’s preparation and execution, have contributed to the team’s success. 

But what goes on off the mats? 

The road to a podium spot at the most prestigious competition in cheer naturally comes with adversity. A spectator’s view is limited to smiling faces, shaking pom-poms and captivating stunt-work. 

“In my opinion, cheer is 70% mental and 30% physical,” Manson said.

Following Simone Biles’ publicly scrutinized departure from Olympic competition this past summer, a discourse sparked surrounding mental health in sports like gymnastics and cheerleading. While two entirely different animals, both sports share in the fact that the mental aspect is the real key to success, despite what the tremendous physical exploits of the athletes may suggest. 

“Although I know everyone heard this term “twisties” more in gymnastics with Simone Biles over the summer, it definitely applies to cheerleading in the same exact way,” said senior broadcast journalism major and Temple cheerleader Lindsey Moppert. “This could happen while tumbling, so when you’re doing a skill, if you can’t see yourself physically doing it in your mind, then you start to freak out and that’s pretty much what having the ‘twisties’ means to me.”

Moppert and her teammates explained twisties as a fundamental disconnect between mind and body when performing a skill that involves a heightened risk of injury. This makes the acrobatic maneuverability all the more impressive, exemplifying the intense mental and physical training that these athletes go through. 

“I have absolutely experienced this and I can probably speak for most cheerleaders to say that they’ve had a mind block at some point in their cheer career,” Moppert said. “Personally, I get in my head about a lot of my tumbling skills and it takes a lot of focus to remind myself that I’ve done this 1,000 times and it’s just me overthinking.” 

Mental blockage is only the beginning of cheerleading’s hard knocks. In spite of their headline-worthy accomplishments, Temple Cheerleading is still not technically considered to be a sport by Temple’s athletics administration. 

“One of the biggest adversities that we face is that we’re not considered full athletes here at Temple,” said junior psychology major Angello Soriano. “The term we like to use sometimes is a ‘half-lete,’ because we get half of all the benefits that other sports teams get, but the other half of things we don’t get.”

Temple’s classification for cheerleading means that despite first- and second-place finishes at the past two UCA Championships respectively, they must operate outside of NCAA guidelines. While they bring home trophies to North Broad Street, they can’t get scholarships, stipends for meal plans, housing or even access to the Athlete Tutoring Center.  

“That’s a great question, I don’t know,” said Scott Walcoff, Temple’s Senior Associate Athletic Director, when asked about the reasoning behind Temple’s status within the Athletic Department. “They’re not a recognized NCAA Sport, but in a lot of college Athletic Departments like ours; they still fall under the Athletic Department’s umbrella because they do so much to support them.”

“From a budget standpoint, I guarantee you that these other programs at P5 schools have bigger budgets than we do,” Walcoff noted. “Scholarships are a big part of that, these other schools can go out and recruit cheerleaders or dance team members; we don’t have scholarships to offer people.”

“That’s why I was so impressed with the performance that both teams had, because of their lack of resources compared to some of those other teams they were sharing the stage with, and/or finished higher than,” Walcoff added. “That really is a testament to the coaches we have here, and the coaches as well.”

The team’s extensive appearance list ranges from Temple basketball and football games to sometimes cheering on Broad Street Run competitors. A normal practice and conditioning schedule totals at least 10 hours a week. During the winter and holiday break, when most students are home relaxing, Temple Cheerleading endures eight hour practice sessions.

COVID-19 also took a toll on the team heading up to Orlando. The outbreak hit the team during their curtailed winter break. 

“We have 20 girls in our traditional routine, 30 girls in our game day routine, and 40 people overall on the cheer team,” Manson said. “Out of the first 20, there were only eight people left. Out of the first 30, maybe 15 [left]. So genuinely half our people had Covid.”

Komosinski garnered further credit for the team’s resilience in the face of this challenge. Various injuries to key performers coincided with the pandemic’s effects.

“We were able to overcome it because of our coach,” Moppert said. “She’s amazing and she’s always thinking ahead of the game.”

“I think because she’s always making sure that the next person up is ready to go, we were able to fill the base spot,” Moppert added. “Also, we were able to motivate each other as a team when coming back from half of the squad having COVID and not being able to practice.”

Amidst all they achieve on the mats, the team simply wants an adequate respect level to go with it. 

“We are athletes, just like any other sports team,” Soriano said. “I just hope that by listening and educating ourselves hopefully more and more people start to come around and realize that.”

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