GNTC Cheer Cats earn bid to NCA Nationals

This year's Cheer Cats squad includes Ashley McAllister, Kiersten Becker, Courtney Blair, Draven Burrage, Kaitlyn Chamlee, Talea Coviington, Whitney Craig, Selena Dupree, Dominque Southern, Cheyenne Strait, Carre Welch and Angela Willbanks. Kristi Thomas (back row, left) serves as the team's assistant coach, while Karen Stoker (back row, right) is the team’s head coach. Also pictured is NCA instructor Michael Clanahan. (Messenger photo/Scott Herpst

April 2018 is still some eight months away, but the Georgia Northwestern Cheer Cats have already got plans for Spring Break.

They'll be spending it in Daytona Beach, vying for another national championship.

The Cheer Cats earned a bronze bid for the NCA/NDA National Championships after qualifying during a team camp on July 21. The 12-member team will compete in the All-Girl Intermediate Division.

"It's been a great week and this is a great group of kids, who have worked hard all week long," said head coach Karen Stoker. "We were so ahead and prepared that we did our evaluation on Friday morning instead of Friday afternoon.

"This is by far the most talented and most dedicated group of kids I've ever coached in my 39 years, so I'm super excited about that."

To earn the bid, the Cheer Cats had to perform a 45-second game day routine, the same game day routine they will perform at nationals. There will also be a music portion of the routine and a rally routine, which will incorporate partner stunts and pyramids as they will try and rev up the crowd.

The game day routine was judged on the final day of the camp, which was held at Stone Creek Elementary in Rossville on July 19-21.

"We got all strong ratings in all our cheer skills, plus everything else that goes along with cheering, besides just yelling cheers," Stoker added, citing things like spirit, attitude and camp attendance.

The Cheer Cats put in at least eight hours each day of camp, but voluntarily stayed over as much as two extra hours a day to perfect their skills.

"They've been outstanding," said Michael Clanahan, the Cheer Cats’ NCA camp instructor who is also helping choreograph their routine for Daytona. "I've done a lot of college camps and they are one of the hardest working groups I've been with. There are no 'I can't's' with them. They are very supportive of each other and it's been a really great environment for them to work in and for me to coach in."

The Cheer Cats are no strangers to NCA Nationals or winning national championships.

Georgia Northwestern qualified for the Co-Ed Intermediate Division at NCA Nationals in 2015, finishing seventh in their first-ever appearance. The following year, they again earned an NCA Nationals bid while attending cheer camp in Louisville, Ky.

However, the squad lost some of its athletes to due to injury and other reasons throughout the year and did not have enough athletes to compete by the time NCA Nationals rolled around, prompting Stoker to find another national competition for her squad.

She found it in Myrtle Beach, S.C. at the Eastern Cheer and Dance Nationals where the Cheer Cats ended up with the highest score in their division and won the program and the school's first-ever national championship.

Last year's squad did not have enough members to field a competition squad, which makes this year's bid extra special for sophomore Ashley McAllister, the squad's lone returning member.

"Last year we didn't get a chance to do competition, so this is awesome," McAllister said just moments after learning of the bid. "The whole squad is really great. We are really coming together and working hard and it's just a really outstanding group this year."

Clanahan believes the Cheer Cats have the potential to make plenty of noise at Nationals.

"Every day they've come in and progressed and it's still just July," he said. "Nationals aren't until April and by then I think they'll be a really strong team because I haven't seen them stall or come short of anything they've tried to do this week, which is outstanding."