Bethel's newest sports take the stage

Mark Schnabel
The Kansan
The Bethel College competitive cheer team is seeking its third trip to the NAIA Nationals.
The Bethel College competitive cheer team will be seeking its third KCAC title Feb. 19 in Lindsborg.
The Bethel dance squad will compete Feb. 12 at the KCAC Championships at Bethany College.
The Bethel competitive dance team placed third Friday and Saturday at the Bethel Invitational.
The Bethel College competitive cheer squad finished third Friday and Saturday at the Bethel Invitational.

Two of Bethel College’s newest teams — competitive cheer and competitive dance — took the stage Friday and Saturday, preparing for the post season at the Bethel Invitational.

Both teams took third in the two-day competition — the cheer team placed third out of six teams, while the dance team was third out of four.

National power Oklahoma City University swept both competitions. Warner University of Florida was second among the cheer teams, while KCAC rival York College took second in dance.

The Thresher dance team is in its second year of competition. Interim coach Kiley McCord took over the program in January.

“In the short month-and-a-half that I have worked with them, they have improved so much,” McCord said. “They have come together as a team. They have adjusted to a new coaching style. I’m a little more hands on. Every day, we try to improve. There are a lot of technical things that we need to keep working on. We have to make sure we stay focused.”

The dance team currently consists of six members — four freshmen. In its only other competition this season, the Threshers were third out of seven teams at the Friends Day of Duels.

“The team overall did good over the weekend,” Bethel freshman Jillian Webber said. “There are definitely spots we need to fix, but we gave it our best and all we can do is come back and do better next time.”

Webber came to Bethel from Colwich (Andale High School) as a self-taught dancer. 

“They found me on TikToc,” Webber said. “I dance on there. I was on the high school dance team for two years. I didn’t do it my junior or senior year, then I came here. I just love it. It’s something that brings me a lot of joy.”

The dance team practices for about two hours a day. Preparation for the season began in November. A choreographer was brought in.

“It’s so exciting. Just the hype of it,” Webber said. “You have to get lots of sleep. You have to encourage everyone on your team. Everyone’s going to be nervous. With the help of your teammates, it’s exciting.”

Bethel competes at the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships Feb. 19 at Bethany College in Lindsborg. The meet champion will qualify for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Nationals March 12 and 13 in Davenport, Iowa.

Avila is the defending dance champion. Bethel was fifth last year.

“We just have to keep doing better and better each time,” Webber said.  

While the dance team is relatively new, the competitive cheer team has been competing since the 2014-15 school year. The Threshers won the KCAC title in 2016 and 2017, advancing to nationals both years. The 2016 title was as an emerging sport, while the 2017 title was as a full championship sport.

Bethel hasn’t finished lower than third in the KCAC.

“(The season) is going pretty well so far,” Bethel coach Joseph Gogus said. “We’re making a lot of progress. COVID slowed us down a little bit, but we’re hanging in there and still kicking. The athletes have made a lot of progress and made sacrifices to try and push forward. I feel like if we perform well, we could definitely win a conference championship.”

While in the past, Bethel had to compete in a regional qualifier, this year’s conference champion gets an automatic bid for the NAIA nationals. In addition, at-large berths are available.

“That’s definitely our goal,” Gogus said. “We’d like to win another conference championship and put another banner on the wall and order more rings. I’m really excited to get it going.”

“We’re hopeful for this year,” Bethel senior Jayde Blain said. “... We’re hoping up the difficulty in our routine. We want transition to our pyramids to hit. And also our elites, we’re looking to add difficulty to that. Having a lot of energy, super good attitude. Having a good team helps. If your team doesn’t mesh, then it’s hard to trust each other. If you don’t trust each other, you can’t do stunts.”

Blain came to Bethel from Cawker City. She attended Lakeside High School in Downs.

“We did a cheer camp here and the coach started recruiting me from there,” Blain said. “I’m going into vet school next year, and I really like the science program here. It’s really advanced and I get a lot research opportunities here. It was a really good fit.”

Blain said she was at first reluctant to try cheerleading.

“I originally didn’t want to cheer when I was younger, but my mom pushed me into it in the eighth grade,” Blain said. “I fell in love with it ever since.”

Blain credited performing and competing for bringing her out of her shell.

“It’s actually interesting because I have huge public-speaking fright and huge stage fright,” Blain said. “But when I come out here in front of a crowd, I don’t have those fears because I’m here with my team. Competition has more pressure, but it’s a fun pressure. It’s a thrill, an adrenaline rush. You go out there, have your two minutes and 30 seconds and it’s an absolute blast.”

Mark Schnabel can be reached at mschnabel@thekansan.com.