It was a groundbreaking season for the Brainerd Warriors cheer team last season.
For the first time in program history, the Warriors advanced to the Universal Cheerleading Association nationals in Orlando. Brainerd competed against 35 teams from across the U.S.
That trip alone put the Warrior cheer team on the map.
“Absolutely, from us going to nationals it’s made people realize that Brainerd cheerleading is not just a sideline cheer,” second-year head coach Carissa Ulness said. “I think a lot of people were not familiar with the fact that we compete. That has really grown the program. The more that we get out there, and not just at nationals, but the more we get out in the public it’s really grown the program because they see that we are a competitive team as well.”
Brainerd was not only competitive, but successful. Another first happened at the Minnesota State Tournament, where Brainerd advanced to the finals to place third at state.
“A lot of people think that we have an easy ride because we automatically go to state,” Ulness said. “You go to state and you have prelims and you have to qualify to advance to the finals. Last year, was the first time varsity ever qualified for the finals at state. This year they’re determined to advance to finals, but this year they want first place. Last year, we came in third.”
Aside from competing, Brainerd does cheer at sporting events, but they also do community service throughout the year. Ulness said she prides herself on being a part of the community, but it also helps get the word out about the cheer team. It’s one of the big goals the athletes have this year, too -- get the word out about cheer team.
“These students put in a lot of time and a lot of work. They cheer year round. They only get two weeks off in July. Other than that, there is no breaks because you can’t do the level stunts that we do with just a couple of weeks of practice.
“This year’s team’s strength overall is their drive. This summer we had an injury that took out one of our main flyers for three months. They just came back last week so that was a wake up call for these students. But these students don’t let that stop them. They have the drive and determination to keep growing the program.”
Kaylee Sutton is a second-year captain for the team and is joined by Kaitlynn Capistrant and Zach Capistrant as varsity captains. Sutton and Kaitlynn Kapistant are five-year varsity members. This is Zach Capistrant’s third season.
Brainerd’s varsity will compete in two divisions this season. The team is made up of 16 athletes in grades 8-12. Only three come into the season with no cheer team experience.
Brainerd will compete in the traditional competition as well as the Game Day Division.
“There are tons of different categories in cheer and it ranges from elementary to middle school to junior high to junior varsity and varsity,” Ulness said. “Then it ranges from non-tumble to tumbling. Our varsity team we are in two different divisions and it’s kind of confusing. When we go to nationals and per UCA we are now what they call a small, coed division because we have one male. However, there aren’t many teams in Minnesota that are in the small division with one male. The small division is one to 16 students and having one to two males. So in local competitions we will compete in small division teams if there are enough coeds or they will compete in medium non-tumbling and medium means 13-16 students and no tumbling.
“For varsity we are also in a game-day division. Game day is a newer division. They brought it in a couple of years ago. It’s brand new for us. That division has four categories with the band chant, situational cheer, school song and a timeout cheer.”
Brainerd’s junior varsity will be coached by assistant Kassii Daiker. The jv will roster 12 athletes.
Brainerd will compete in nine events as well as the UCA Nationals qualifier and the state tournament. The team goals are to once again advance to the UCA Nationals and to better their placement at state.
The Warriors will also be hosting their inaugural cheer team fundraiser, which is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Brainerd American Legion. Lt will be called “Cheers to a Night Out.” There will be a dinner, raffle and silent auction. A time has yet to be determined, but will be announced.
“Over the past four years, I have seen so much growth with the Warrior cheer program and the students,” Ulness said. “It’s great to see the teams improve year after year.”
Head coach: Carissa Ulness, second year as head coach, 2 years as assistant
Assistant coaches: Kassii Daiker (junior varsity)
Captains: Kaylee Sutton, Kaitlynn Capistrant and Zach Capistrant
Seniors: Kaylee Sutton, Malia Hermerding, Savannah Roth, Amber Russell
Juniors: Kaitlynn Capistrant, Lauren Goralsky, Julia Goralsky
Sophomores: Zach Capistrant, Bailey Schuler, Amara Ruether, Mackenzie Carter
Freshman: Eva Harvey, Breanna Frazer
Eighth-graders: Emma Monahan, Gabby Miller, Quinn Giles
Junior varsity roster
Senior: Brittany Weston
Junior: Jessica Smith
Sophomores: Kaydence Miller, Kjerstin Flansburg, Tiffany Borg
Freshman: Adrina Oswald
Eighth-graders: Abby Schuler, Adrian Gauster
Seventh-graders: Amy Iverslie, Kaydence Tonn, Kiley Hart, Myah Ruether
Saturday, Oct. 12: at Farmington 10 a.m.
Saturday, Oct. 27: at Kasson-Mantorville 11 a.m.
Nov. 2: at Universal Cheerleading Assocation’s 10,000 Lakes Regional at Edina (varsity only)
Nov. 9: at Bloomington Jefferson 10:30 a.m.
Dec. 8: at Champlin Park High 10 a.m.
Dec. 14: at St Michael-Albertville 10 a.m.
Jan. 4: at Minnetonka 10 a.m.
Jan. 11: at Edina 10:30 a.m.
Jan. 18: at Dassel-Cokato 10 a.m.
Jan. 26: at Maple Grove 10 a.m.
Feb. 1: Minnesota State Cheer Competition at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in Minneapolis 9 a.m.