ORLANDO - After some stormy weather postponed events until the final day of competition, Tennessee's dance team used the extra time to hone their routine en route to their second straight national championship in the jazz routine at Walt Disney World's Wide World of Sports Complex.
The final day of competition saw both the dance and cheer team turn in performances that would make any coach and alumni proud. As the final day of competition came to a close, Tennessee's spirit squads brought home a total of two national championships, a second-place finish by the cheer squad, and fifth-place finish by the dance team in the hip-hop division and a good showing by the cheer duo of senior Clayton Baker and freshman Mandy Pitto. By many accounts, it was a great weekend and one the University of Tennessee fans, alumni and administrators can be proud to support.
Led by seniors Shawn Manners, Holly Simmons and Maci Stephens, the dance team capped a full day of performing by saving their best performance for last. Their motto for this weekend was "Believe." And hey held to that motto. It was a quiet confidence by a very talented group of ladies who know their abilities and believe they can accomplish anything set before them.
They day began with a semi-final performance which was postponed by the heavy thunderstorms which swept into the Orlando area late Saturday afternoon. Thus their day began bright and early championship morning.
They had little time to relax after easily making it to the finals in the jazz routine. The squad then had to make quick time to make costume changes for the finals of the hip-hop competition just a little more than an hour later. It was these final two dances where they shined.
The hip-hop scene was a crowd pleaser and got great reviews from many of those in attendance. It was not enough to wrestle away the crown form defending national champion Memphis, but it was enough to improve on last year's finish and place fifth.
As if the dance team's performance was not enough, dominating the field on their way to the crown, then what came next shocked a lot of people in attendance. Tennessee's cheer squad came into the competition as one of the youngest and least experienced squad's on the floor competing against multi-national champion Kentucky, and powerhouses Central Florida, Alabama, LSU and Hawaii.
But the cheer squad also had a motto this past weekend - "No excuses. Play like a champion." And to their credit they gave everything they had and performed like a champion.
The Vols needed to fight their way through the semi-finals to reach the final day of competition. After drawing an early spot in the competition, the Vols had to follow Kentucky's near flawless routine with their own dynamic routine just moments later. And then they had to wait for the other college squads to strut their stuff. In the end only one stood above Tennessee at the podium.
It was a great performance by a very talented and young squad from Tennessee. And in the history of the program, this one stands second to none as they tied the highest finish by a cheer squads set back in 2000, 2004 and 2006.
But 2008 will be remembered as the best finish overall by the Tennessee spirit teams. No other college team had such a successful weekend of competition. If an award was given to the best overall collegiate program, it would be awful hard to find a school with a better performance than that of the University of Tennessee.
"I am extremely proud of what our young men and women were able to accomplish this weekend," said UT Spirit Coordinator and Head Cheer coach Joy Postell Gee. "They worked so very hard to get to the championships and it is a testament to their work ethics and the great coaching staff who put in so much to these programs.
"It is an honor to represent the University of Tennessee with these fine young people and with what we were able to accomplish. It says a lot about their class and ability to represent not only the University but the state of Tennessee."
It was a performance that even the late General Robert Neyland would have been proud of. For the dance team, it is always harder to defend a national championship than it is to win it. But they did not just go out and do just enough, they actually distanced themselves from runner-up Minnesota and ran away with their second crown. As for the cheerleading squad, they came into the competition under the radar and worked their way up from the semi-finals to knock on the door of a national crown. And then there was Smokey, leading the pack and the weekend with his first national crown since 2001. If was definitely a great time to be a Tennessee Vol.