The Maryland competitive cheer team, under the direction of Kennett Square native Jarnell Bonds, won the NCA national title Friday evening with a close victory over 2009's champion, University of Louisville. The Terps reclaimed the NCA crown to win their fourth title in five years (2006, 2007, 2008, 2010).
The Terrapins earned an overall score of 9.639 to edge Louisville's 9.618 in the tightest national championship race ever in NCA history. Maryland earned the highest crowd appeal score as well and was named grand champion of the entire event in every division.
Coming into last week's finals round, the Terrapins sat in second place with a score of 9.148 to Louisville's 9.468. Maryland endured stumbles in its partner stunts and pyramid elements of its routine to suffer .35 in deductions.
The finals round, usually outside in Daytona Beach, was moved inside due to an unfavorable forecast. The Terps hit a solid, flawless routine to win their fourth title. The Cardinals, who competed after the Terrapins, hit a strong routine as well.
"Before we even went over to the arena, I just knew we were going to win," Terrapins head coach Jarnell Bonds said. "The girls' energy was just amazing even hours before we went on the floor. They were supporting each other all the way through."
"Our routine today was a coach's dream. That routine was a championship routine. I have never seen a team hit a routine like that. As a coach, you usually can find something in every routine, but that routine was flawless in every sense of the word."
Now in her fourth season as head coach, Jarnell Bonds is looking forward to continuing her talented team's success. In April 2008, she led the Terps to another top-two finish at NCA Nationals in Daytona Beach, Fla. In her first two years as head coach, she coached the Lady Terps to two national titles.
She got her start as a competitive gymnast who was raised in Kennett Square, PA. She cheered for the Terrapins and was on the national championship squad in 1999. After serving as assistant coach for three years, Bonds, a 2002 graduate from the University of Maryland, took over the role from thirteen-year head coach Lura Fleece in the 2006-07 season. Bonds has been a part of the competitive cheer coaching staff since the university recognized it as a varsity sport in 2003.
The feelings before, during and after the routine were all unique to this championship team. Even after a tough preliminary round, the Terrapins were able to keep their focus and spirits up.
"We knew it was going be our floor," senior co-captain Joanna Venezia said. "After we competed, the crowd was the most insane crowd I've ever seen. I've never been a part of a team that was cheered for that. We knew our performance in preliminaries wasn't our best, but no one was nervous or stuck on those issues."
"When we took the floor, we were all standing really close to each other," senior co-captain Lauren Louis said. "As soon as we took the floor, it gave us chills. After each piece of the routine, it became real that were going to win this. The best part was feeling at the end of the pyramid. We just knew that we won. We knew we couldn't have done any better."
"In our jump sequence, the music says, 'STILL-THE-ONE,' because that's the theme for our routine. Even though we were second last year, we are still the one. During our jumps, it felt like the entire crowd yelled out, 'Still the one,' for us. We worked so hard for this. We decided we were taking it back."
While every national championship is special and unforgettable, this year's senior class holds a special place with Bonds.
"These seniors were freshmen my first year as head coach, so I've always had a unique bond with them," Bonds said. "This is the first year all of our seniors have made our top-20 on the mat, so that's extra special as well."
The Terrapins began their way to the top of the all-girl division six years ago, when they became the first-ever competitive cheer team in the country. They were the first and the only competitive cheer team until seven other schools began taking on competitive cheer as a sport in the last two years. Six years later, with more teams added to the competitive cheer world, the Terps are still the one.
Bonds currently holds a 95% signing rate of athletes she recruits. She has judged cheerleading competitions in the Mid-Atlantic region since 1998.