Since 2017, students have led the Taylor University cheer squad. Now, they have a coach.
After two years on the team, Taylor graduate Meridian Hollister returned to serve as the cheer squad’s coach. Hollister and her fellow Taylor graduate Allyson McGuire were an integral part of the team the first year, as both brought previous experience to the team.
“When we first started, half of the team had never stunted and a quarter of the team had never cheered in their life,” Hollister said. “We were really playing catch up as far as trying to learn how to be a collegiate team. So we've definitely grown in skill and we've grown in professionalism.”
Hollister’s experiences give her a unique insight into how the team works.
Throughout her time on the team, she also learned the importance of unity and connectedness, especially during difficult stunts.
“Cheerleading is a very internal sport,” she said. “With most teams, if there's a lack of chemistry or general inner team struggles, it typically melts away when it comes to, ‘we have an opponent to play and we have to do something.’ With cheerleading, it's like, ‘we have to perform and if our chemistry is not there, it's not going to work.’”
According to new and returning members to the squad, this understanding is one of Hollister’s strengths as a coach.
For senior Lily Bjorlin, who has been on the team since 2017, Hollister’s time on the team helps her to better relate to team members.
“It is nice that she has been on the team for the past couple of years, so those of us who are returning members know her and we know her attitude. We know how she works, how she thinks,” Bjorlin said. “So she knows what we're good at. She knows our strengths. She knows what areas we need to work on. She knows when to push us hard.”
Along with pushing the team to do their best, Hollister also tries to create an atmosphere of unity and communication by hosting team get-togethers, including squad dinners and decorating Christmas cookies. Before the Silent Night game in December, the team will get together for a Christmas sock exchange, Bjorlin said.
For new team members, like sophomore Kirsten Norman, Hollister’s openness and willingness to teach has been a big part of her experience so far.
“I love her,” Norman said. “She has helped me so much. I had never done cheer before, so just having her guidance is so helpful to me. I've learned so much already.”
Now in their third season of performing at sporting events, the team is preparing to make the jump to varsity level competitive cheer for the 2020–21 season. Hollister hopes that someday the team will qualify for the national cheerleading competition held in Daytona Beach, Fla.
In the meantime, Hollister wants to tighten up the team’s performance before they start competing.
“My vision is to become a very disciplined, very clean team,” she said. “That tends to be the Achilles’ heel for a lot of college teams. They try to do more than they can actually handle and they end up looking less clean.”
According to Hollister, the team has more than risen to the challenge.
“They're really hard workers,” Hollister said. “I've definitely pushed them really hard this year, because I'm trying to prepare them to become a varsity sport, so I'm asking for a lot of commitment, I'm asking for a lot of work.”