BYU Cougarettes share their light through team unity

The Cougarettes begin a performance of their national championship-winning hip hop number. The women donned jerseys with the number 19 for the performance. 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)

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

This year, the team topped the nation’s highest honors. This year’s Cougarettes were able to do something no Cougarettes team has done before as they attended 2019 International Cheer Union World Cheerleading Championships and took 2nd place in the hip hop division.

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

So what’s the secret to this year’s Cougarettes team’s success? Some might point to the many performances the team does at sports events and on stage. Some might even point to the viral videos the team has filmed with Cosmo the cougar.

Members of the team say otherwise. Three-year team veteran and dance captain Emry Wride said it’s all about unity.

“I haven’t had a team be this united before,” she said. “This is my third year on the team, and this team is just so different.”

This year, members of the Cougarettes said unity, which they depend on to master their synchronized movement, has been especially important to the team — so much so that the Cougarettes made it their 2018-2019 season’s theme.

The theme of “one” proved to be the unifying call to action the team needed in order to become number one. The team said being one came naturally, despite more than half of the team’s roster being freshmen.

Wride said the freshmen played a prominent part in the team’s efforts to become one.

“They’re just so awesome,” Wride said. “They bring such a positive energy, and they’re just willing to listen to you and do anything you ask, which just makes everybody a team player.”

Jodi Maxfield leads her team after a triumphant national championship win in the jazz division. (Adam Petersen)

Longtime Cougarettes director and coach Jodi Maxfield complimented her new team members on their maturity and their ability to quickly unify with their more experienced teammates.

“I have 10 freshmen on this team who have just felt like veterans from the start,” Maxfield said. “I feel like their routines have come together so quickly. It’s because they work in such unison, and they are really a unified team.”

As part of the team’s preparation for the world stage, Maxfield brought in Shaye Edwards, a recent graduate and team veteran.

Edwards was also complimentary of her new teammates, saying that although she had taken time off, she was welcomed back with open arms to her former team.

“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 also commended her new teammates on their contributions to the team’s journey to the world stage and complimented their efforts towards unity.

“The freshmen are awesome,” she 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.”

Freshman and new team member Annika Petersen said that the team’s theme of “one” has been a part of a greater purpose — sharing their light with everyone they can.

“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.”

When you think about a team made up of some of the world’s best hip hop dancers, odds are you probably don’t picture a group of girls, primarily from Arizona and Utah, who study at a university as profoundly religious as BYU — but that’s exactly who the Cougarettes are.

The Cougarettes have been able to share their talents and religion with more people than any other incarnation of the team before them. Along with their two division national championship wins, this year, they also produced yet another viral video. The video, released six months ago, featured the Cougarettes performing at a home football game with Cosmo. The dance routine, performed to Drake’s “In My Feelings” received over 970,000 views on YouTube.

The team had other experience in the spotlight this year as well. Members of this year’s Cougarettes team graced the cover of March’s issue of Dance Spirit, the dance world’s premier publication.

The publication highlighted the deep connection the team shares with their school’s religious roots and echoed Petersen’s intent of sharing the team’s light with the world.

“BYU is a private religious institution owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the vast majority of its students are members of the LDS Church,” Dance Spirit says. “If you ask Maxfield, religion doesn’t just play into the ethos of the team — it is the ethos of the team. ‘It’s the foundation of who we are,’ she says … According to Maxfield, as the team has gained national attention through competitions and viral YouTube videos, they have become, in part, the face of the school, and, by extension, a representation of the LDS Church.”

The Cougarettes have continued to share their light this year, following up their double national championship win, which would normally mark the end of an immensely successful season, with a 2nd place finish at the international championship.

The deep-seated unity the Cougarettes worked so had to achieve further allowed them to share their faith and light on stage in front of the rest of the world.

Ty Mullen
The Cougarettes perform a routine during their send-off before nationals. (Ty Mullen)
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