BYU Cougarettes competing for first world title

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The Cougarettes perform their national championship-winning jazz number for friends and family during their sendoff performance on April 1. (Ty Mullen)

The BYU Cougarettes have won a national championship 19 times. That’s right — the all-female dance crew that often entertains the crowd during BYU basketball and football games has been crowned the nation’s top dance squad 19 times, including twice this year.

The BYU Cougarettes pose with their championship trophies and banners. The team won the 2019 titles for hip hop and jazz. (Adam Petersen)

The Cougarettes won a coveted double championship at the National Dance Alliance nationals meet in Daytona, Florida, on April 5-6, solidifying the team’s legacy of dancing dominance.

While it might seem impossible to top the nation’s highest honors, this year, the Cougarettes hope to do just that. The team is uniquely poised to win something no Cougarettes team has won before — a world championship.

The International Cheer Union selected BYU’s own to represent the U.S. at the upcoming international meet on April 24-26 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resorts in Orlando, Florida.

Longtime Cougarettes director and coach Jodi Maxfield said she is honored to be the coach of the country’s 2019 representative dance team.

“It’s incredible. It’s like the Olympics of cheerleading,” Maxfield said. “To come home with a gold medal is what we’re hoping for and it would be an unimaginable opportunity.”

For the multiple-time championship coach, the application process for the spot as the national team was unique but fulfilling. Maxfield had to review and compile the team’s many accomplishments as part of the selection process.

“To represent the United States, we had to submit a video. (The committee) looks at your past history — the awards you’ve won and things you’ve done recently,” Maxfield said. “The Cougarettes have been very successful, not only in competition but in our viral videos, too. I know a lot of really good dance teams that entered for the honor and they chose BYU.”

Maxfield noted most dance teams like the Cougarettes don’t do nearly as many non-competition performances and media appearances as the Cougarettes. The viral videos with BYU’s beloved mascot, Cosmo, were one of the biggest factors in the team’s selection as the U.S. National Team.

Their most recent video, released just six months ago, featured the Cougarettes performing at a home football game with Cosmo. The dance routine, performed to Drake’s “In My Feelings,” was incredibly popular, receiving over 860,000 views on YouTube.

Maxfield brought in Shaye Edwards, a recent graduate and team veteran, for 2019 to help with the team’s foray onto the world stage.

“I took off dancing for about 10 months,” Edwards said. “Jodi asked me to come back and I just jumped right back in because I was so excited. I’ve been made a part of the team again. It really feels like I’m back (on) Cougarettes … like nothing ever changed.”

Edwards’ quick inclusion may come as a surprise to many, as the team veteran’s presence is a stark contrast to the team’s newest additions, the 10 new freshmen. The new team members, who make up the majority of the Cougarettes’ 19-dancer roster, have made an indelible impact on the team’s dynamic.

“The freshmen are awesome,” Edwards said. “They came into this team with such positive attitudes and work ethics, and I think that’s been huge for this team this year to have those amazing freshmen.”

Edwards also noted the increased unity she feels in the team this year. She said this is due, in great part, to the new teammates’ efforts. The team’s theme this year was “One,” which proved to be the unifying call to action the team needed to boost its preparation to the next level.

Annika Petersen, a freshman on the squad, echoed a similar sentiment about the team’s unity.

Annika Petersen, center left, poses with her family after the nationals send-off performance. Petersen recovered in time to go with her team to Daytona, Florida, for the nationals meet. (Ty Mullen)

“Our theme this year has been ‘One’, which I think has been showing just how we’ve gathered together as we prepare for nationals and worlds,” Petersen said. “To be able to do our best and develop and share our light with those that we can, we’re so grateful for everybody.”

Petersen’s optimism for the team’s upcoming appearance on the world stage belied the challenges and setbacks she and some of her teammates have experienced. Just like any other high-level athletes, the Cougarettes have fought through both injury and illness over the course of the school year.

Petersen couldn’t join her team’s rehearsals for weeks after a seemingly small injury at an earlier performance left her with a debilitating leg infection.

“We had our concert in February, where we showed a bunch of our routines,” the freshman said. “The next week after, I woke up in the morning with my leg stiff and weak … I later found out that it was a staph infection.”

Though the illness forced her out of some of the team’s most important practices for the coming competitions, the now fully-recovered Petersen said she is just happy to be back with the team.

Petersen wasn’t the only team member who experienced setbacks that threatened her participation in the team’s biggest-ever performance. Fellow freshman and Alpine, Utah, native Lauren Billings also found herself injured at one of the worst possible times.

Billings dislocated her shoulder in a freak accident while doing a trick during the team’s send-off dress rehearsal and performance last Monday, April 1. Cougarettes friends and family attended the performance, which happened just days before the nationals meet. It was a harsh reminder to all of the demands of competing in the fast-paced sport of dancing.

“I wanted to do my shoulder spin trick,” Billings said. “I just pushed farther for than I usually do and it just dislocated.”

Lauren Billings, right, is comforted by her family after dislocating her shoulder at the nationals send-off performance. (Ty Mullen)

Billings, who was hurried out of the venue shortly after the performance for a medical examination, was still hopeful and optimistic. Billings made it clear that although her untimely injury threatened her participation in the upcoming meets, she trusted in her team to make it work.

“I have full trust in my team,” Billings asserted. “We’ve worked to always just have each other’s backs to dance as a whole and in everything we do. I feel confident that we will be fine and get through it.”

Billings recovered enough to perform with the rest of her team at the national meet, although Maxfield had to make some short-notice adjustments so Billings could still participate in the dance that injured her.

Three-year team veteran and team captain Emry Wride holds many of the same feelings as Billings. Wride’s trust in the team is also based on the high level of unity the team has developed this year.

“I haven’t had a team be this united before. This is my third year on the team and this team is just so different,” she said. “There’s something special that every single girl would do anything for each other.”

Wride also spoke about the team’s special nature. She said teams with that level of unity, while rare, are the foundation of how the Cougarettes create the magic the BYU community sees time and time again.

“You don’t get a team like that very often,” Wride said. “It’s just magic out there whenever we dance.”

The Cougarettes begin a performance of their national championship-winning hip hop number. For the performance, the women donned jerseys with the number 19. The number 19 is special to the Cougarettes: it represents the year 2019, the number of dancers on the team and the team’s aspirations to win its 18th and 19th national championships. (Ty Mullen)
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