Dynasty built on impossible stunts, grit, camaraderie

A female USF cheerleadr shows into a large, green megaphone, while a teammate behind her sits on the shoulders of another. They are wearing USF cheer outfits, white bodices with long, dark green sleeves.

USF’s All-Girl Cheer Team captured two national titles during the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) College Nationals in Orlando. [photo: USF Athletics]


They provide the backdrop of school spirit, fun and energy at USF’s big-time athletic events. Along the sidelines and during timeouts, they captivate fans with choreographed stunts and acrobatics.

Now, fittingly, their accomplishments are center stage.

It’s time to give a cheer … for the USF cheerleaders.

The cheer squads have built a national championship dynasty, establishing USF as a powerhouse destination for competitive cheerleading.

A large crowd of USF cheerleaders in USF uniforms and media jump for joy, holding a giant tropy aloft. They are in a competition space, with a giant USF U-icon displayed on the wall behind them.

USF’s All-Girl Cheer Team celebrate during the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) College Nationals in Orlando. [photo: USF Athletics]

In January, USF’s All-Girl Cheer Team captured two national titles during the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) College Nationals in Orlando, becoming the first Division I program to win national titles in the Division IA Game Day and Traditional competitions during the same year. They were the fifth and sixth UCA national championships earned by the USF cheer programs in the last four years.

Meanwhile, USF’s Coed Cheer Team saw a historic string of three national titles —in 2021, ’22 and ’23 — before finishing second this year in the Division IA Large Coed Game Day category and fourth in the Division IA Large Coed Traditional category. USF is only the second program (along with Kentucky) to earn three consecutive national championships.

“There’s really no difference between us and our other USF athletic teams in that it’s all about resilience and grind and everyone comes here with the intent of winning national titles,’’ says Sandy Clarke, ’07, All-Girl team coach.

Approximately 16 USF Coed Cheer teammates, wearing USF colors, display a three-person high tower. Male teammates form the 9-person base. Four female cheerleaders form the center, and three female cheerleaders form the top with arms raised high in a V-formation.

USF’s Coed Cheer Team finished second in the Division 1A Large Coed Game Day category. [photo: USF Athletics]

For UCA competitions, the Game Day routines resemble the presentations fans see at USF football and basketball games (think high energy and big smiles). The Traditional routines are a more elaborate series of stunts, jumps, pyramids and tumbling set to music — an awe-inspiring display of high-level gymnastics. 

Each squad strives to stretch boundaries by coming up with moves never before attempted. Success comes down to how well they execute, as determined by a subjective judging panel.

During this year’s All-Girl Traditional competition, USF ranked fifth coming out of the preliminaries. After a near perfect final routine — no deductions for mistakes — the squad members clutched one another’s hands as they awaited the final results. 

“I can’t let go. We’re all holding hands and our heads are down,” recalls Kayla Rivera of Spring Hill, a public health major. “My palms get sweaty and my hands are shaking. When they said our name, everything went silent in my head. The world freezes for a moment. It’s like you’re standing on top of a mountain, looking down at everybody. You’re so happy because you know that all of the work has paid off.’’

USF’s Coed Cheer Team knows the feeling. The squad had not competed nationally for 13 years when it returned to the contest in 2016. In just six years, it climbed from 12th place to its first national championship in 2021.

“We were definitely shooting for four straight [national titles] and this time, we had our most difficult routine ever and we made an error,’’ says assistant coach Gillian Guadagnino, who served as head coach for eight years before flipping responsibilities with her husband, Ronnie Patrick. “The journey is always better than the destination, so we’re pleased with our preparation. 

“Good teams are led by coaches; great teams are led by athletes. They set our standard with the work ethic established outside of practice.’’

Squad member Ramsey Robinson was a 6-foot-5 high-level basketball player from Rockledge High School on Florida’s East Coast before injuries forced him to concentrate more on academics than athletics.

While watching a USF football game, he noticed the athletic skill of the cheerleaders. “I can do that,’’ he thought to himself. “In fact, I want to try and do that.”

“I can tell you, it’s as athletic and grueling as anything I’ve ever done,” says the biomedical sciences major. “It stinks that we couldn’t get our fourth national championship, but winning three in a row was legendary.’’

It’s a feat that will be long remembered.

“One day, if I have an office somewhere, 100 percent I’ll have a framed picture of our team hanging up there. The memories of what we accomplished here at USF, they’ll never go away,’’ says Gabe Rodriguez of Port St. Lucie, who’s majoring in mechanical engineering. 

“But what I’ll remember most is the camaraderie, the friendships and the way we came together as a team.’’

USF All-Girl Cheerleading Team
Coaches: Sandy Clarke; Kelly Budnick, ’10; Leighton Clarke; Jessica Sherman, ’17

Athletes: Zaniyah Anderson-Spencer, Haylee Apostoloff, Regan Barnes, Katelyn Blalock, Malayna Boring, Avery Brooks, Taryn Brown, Hayley Clark, Dallas Cornish, Tori Crawford, Sophia Crow, Sage Dawson, Kayla Dick, Vivi Falkstein, Sammi Fischer, Leilani Gillie, Riley Guell, Bella Guerra, Ryleigh Hajek, Ella Harrelson, Gabby Healis, Hollyn Cate Henderson, Wesleigh Hobbs, Maddie Hollis, Makayla Johnson, Melanie Kral, Kierra Lane, Louie Louis, Jaylee Luna, Lanie Mullowney, Juliette Pacheco, Sasha Payne, Sammy Radzwilka, Camryn Rausch, Kayla Rivera, Paytenn Rollins, Emily Selba, Kate Shapiro, Mikenzie Shiflett, Jessica Sinphay, Marissa Smith, Ally Stoyan, Natalie Virgen, Izzy Watson, Emalee West, Regan Williams and Rylee Zais

USF Coed Cheerleading Team
Coaches: Ronnie Patrick, Gillian Guadagnino, SaVannah Wright

Athletes: Joseph Apisa, Kendrick Bland, Thomas Crawford, Kenzie Davis, Chloe George, Brian Gomez Jr., Brandon Gray, Trenton Hayden, Madison Holland, Gabriel Hopkins, Logan Keester, Kaleb Kelley, Skylen Kerbs, Alexis Kouras, Lindsey Nichols, Gabriel Oliveira, Ashlyn Pinner, Stephon Ramos-Benavides, Madalynn Redo, Tatum Reel, Ramsey Robinson, Gabriel Rodriquez, Katie Ross, Erica Scarborough, Harly Sultuska, Dylan Tardie, Tatum Taylor, Kayla Unterweiser, Jordan Wilson, Sarah Wood and Eric Zell