Whenever you attend a basketball game at Leo D. Mahoney Arena, there is a good chance that as you are sitting in one of the two fan sections behind the corresponding baskets. You notice the squad that tries to get everyone going. You know who is being described here?
No, no. It’s not Lucas the Stag. It’s the cheerleaders of course!
The Fairfield University cheerleaders are a unique and dynamic group. They operate in a bit of a different way than most athletic teams do. They practice three times a week, on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and in the spare time that they receive to work on their craft, they have two goals in mind.
The first one is working on getting Stag Country fired up as they cheer on the red and white herd on game days, and the other being renowned as one of the top cheerleading units in the nation, by participating in competitions that lead up to the National Collegiate Athletic Association College Nationals championships in April in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The crew is looking forward to these challenges, as they are taking things one step at a time. The leadership unit, led by Maddie Allegretta ‘25, Becca Kowal ‘24 and Alexa Pope ‘24, embrace the opportunities, and are doing their best to lead their team into doing some very special things.
“It’s always really exciting when you are starting a new season because you get all the new people, new dynamics and new talent in here,” Allegretta elaborates. “Right now, it’s important to see what works and in which areas people excel in. So yeah, we’re really excited. We’ve been practicing for about a month now, and things are going well and we’re looking forward to the start of the season.”
“I would say, with this being my fourth season on the team, the team has progressed in terms of talent and intensity over the years and it’s exciting to see which the direction the program will go as we all continue to come together and develop,” Pope, a Bronxville, N.Y. native exemplifies. “We’re pumped up for the great season that we have ahead of us.”
Preparing to cheer for two athletics teams and a national competition tournament does not appear to be an easy task. But they do not seem bothered and are ready to go out and execute to the best of their abilities.
“Game day mindset and competition mindset are two completely different things,” Pope explains. “Game day is more high energy. You’re trying to address the crowd and trying to get everyone going during games. I’m excited to cheer for basketball but on the other hand, competition is more, I don’t want to say serious, but it’s more intense. It’s more of a ‘get your head in the game’ mindset. You’re competing against the best teams in the country.”
“I think probably going off of what Alexa said, there are definitely different ways on how we prepare for game day and competition,” Kowal says. “I think now with the brand new, beautiful arena, we want to be a valuable presence. We want people to come, see us and know that we are a competitive team on campus and not just look at us as a group that goes out and performs on game days.”
“Competition is definitely, for us, more serious. I think in games, if we make one mistake, no one notices as much. At competition, when the spotlight is more entrenched on us, you can’t let small mistakes get in the way. A lot of times we try to practice some of the skills that we will bring to competition at games, and obviously we can’t do a full competition routine at halftime. We will, however, try to integrate pieces of our competition routine into the game day experience as well.”
A lot of items are on the squad’s agenda this season. But how are they going to be successful? By coming together as a team and executing to the fullest of their abilities. Allegretta, Kowal and Pope, named captains at the start of preseason, understand this and know that they bear responsibility for leading this pack into the journey that is this season.
“I’ve been cheering since the third grade, and cheerleading is just a big part of my life,” Pope explains. “This team is a family and even though this is my last year, I want to go out and do the best I can as a leader to make sure that we continue moving forward in the right direction.”
“I try not to think about it ending because I love it here so much,” Kowal points out. “This is where you meet your best friends and have some of the best experiences of my life, and I want to help carry on this amazing legacy we have to the underclassmen. I think we have great leadership here.”
The head coach, Taylor Wilkes, agrees that these three students are the engine in what potentially may make this team a powerful unit.
“The goal is to obviously go down to Daytona for NCAA College Nationals, and our girls know that,” Coach Wilkes says. “We obviously have a lot of work to do, and as long as we hit our routine and do our best out there on the mat, we will be fine. That’s all we can ask for. In the end, the result kind of lies in the judges’ hands, so we have to accept the results no matter if we like them or not. That’s a big goal for us this season, and I think we should be fine.”
Wilkes, a former cheerleader herself, also touched on how her experience on the mat has helped her become a leader behind the bench.
“I mean, I think with being the coach my schedule hasn’t really changed over the past several years,” coach Wilkes jokes. “The good news is that cheerleading has consumed my life. It is different. I miss being on the court and being out there for competition, but I think as any athlete will say, when you’re participating in a sport, there’s still a thrill there.
“I think there’s a thrill there as a coach, but it’s definitely different than as a player. For me, it’s just exciting to see our program be built year after year, and so for me as a coach, and having been on this team myself, it’s just super rewarding seeing this program excel. I just can’t imagine being a part of another program,” Wilkes finishes.The gang appears poised and confident as it is ready to take on the challenges it has in front of them. They aim to do this by making Stag Country proud by being a passionate and energetic squad. You can catch the cheerleading team at all of the home basketball games this season, with the women’s team tipping off their home campaign on Monday, Nov. 6 against Lehman College, and the men’s kickstarting theirs against Mount Saint Mary College on Monday, Nov. 13. For more information on the Fairfield University cheerleading program, please follow their Instagram at @fairfieldstagscheer.