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UNLV’s Rebel dancers, cheerleaders bring home national titles

Updated January 22, 2019 - 7:17 pm

Usually, the only time you hear about college cheerleaders is when one falls from the top of the pyramid or gets run over on the sidelines during an end sweep and makes ESPN’s plays of the day.

Or when they are banished from the sidelines altogether, as happened recently when the University of Southern California’s athletic director decided the school’s arena could not accommodate both performances of the cheerleaders and dance team. He picked the dance team. Boos ensued.

UNLV’s cheering squad and Rebel Girls dance team also were absent from the Thomas &Mack Center on Saturday when the Rebels routed San Jose State. But there was nothing controversial about it.

They were at Disney World winning prestigious titles at the College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships.

To repeat what was first said in 1867, probably at an Ivy League school: sis-boom-bah!

Rebel Girls dynasty

While the UNLV cheerleaders and coach Savanna Sibley claimed their first national championship in the Game Day class, the Rebel Girls &Company (men also perform) defended their titles in the Game Day and Hip Hop categories, running their national title total to six under coach Marca DeCastroverde.

In Game Day, cheerleaders and dance teams perform the same routines they do at games. Except nobody goes out for a beer or a hot dog during timeouts, which is usually what happens against San Jose State.

When we talked Monday, DeCastroverde said the Rebel Girls &Company were at the Disney World theme park. This is an advantage that national cheer champions have over the Super Bowl MVP — they don’t have to go to Disney World, because they already are there.

But unlike Nick Foles or Tom Brady, they have to pay their way in.

Because they receive what amounts to only one athletic scholarship, the cheerleaders and dance team must raise funds or petition the student government for financial support. They practice from 12 to 16 hours every week, go to public gyms for fitness and must also be full-time students.

“We actually train more than most of the sports teams on campus,” said DeCastroverde, who grew up in Columbia, Missouri, and was a Rebel Girl during the late 1990s.

The same goes for the cheerleaders.

“Collegiate cheerleading has become so competitive it has taken us years to get to this level,” said Sibley, a Bishop Gorman graduate who doubles as a national cheering team coach. “These are big-name schools we’ve been going up against. To see the girls jumping and down and to see the tears … the moment was so miraculous.”

Attracting talent

On Tuesday night, senior Cailyn Cota of the dance team was still enjoying the second title in a row while cheering on the UNLV men’s basketball team against the University of New Mexico.

“What made it even more special was how we (won) back-to-back championships,” she said. “It was definitely a lot of pressure because it’s something this program has never done before, and we wanted to be able to set that standard and get that going moving forward. So we had a lot of pressure on us, but we’re definitely embracing it now.”

UNLV’s reputation is such that dancers from around the country aspire to be Rebel Girls.

“It’s a huge commitment and they’ve just done so well at it,” said DeCastroverde, whose salary for coaching the Rebel Girls is significantly less than she made teaching . “They are great representatives of the university. They’re hard-working, they’re smart, they’re articulate, they’re kind. They’re just a really special group of people.”

Those standing in line to ride the Big Mountain Thunder Railroad probably weren’t aware they were in the company of the national dance champions for the second straight year. National cheerleading champs don’t get invited to the White House for hamburgers the way national football champions do.

They train hard and try not to fall from the top of the pyramid, and when people go for a beer or a hot dog when they are performing during timeouts, they smile and do not take it personally.

That’s just the way it is in cheer and dance, and in a way, it’s just the way these Rebels like it.

Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

Staff writer Mark Anderson contributed to this report. Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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