The S.A.U. Competitive Cheer Team is headed to Nationals next year.

For members the chance to compete on a national stage next year in Daytona Beach, Fla., is a dream that has come true.

“We’d get big rings on our fingers,” Elizabeth Mangus, captain, said of a win at Nationals, which will be held April 5-9. “We’re ring-chasing – that’s our hashtag.”While the squad will concentrate in the short term on cheering the SAU Muleriders, preparing for Nationals – both in terms of creating new routines and raising funds for the trip – will not be far from their minds.They recently launched a crowdfunding campaign online with a goal of $10,000.

The campaign ends on Oct. 31, so they are encouraging possible donors to visit the page soon to find out more information and to give online.

At Nationals, the team will compete in the Intermediate Division. “It’s not the hardest stuff, it’s not the easiest, it’s right in the middle,” Mangus said. “We will make it clean and make sure we hit everything in our routine.”

“It’s a dream for any girl who ever wanted to be a cheerleader,” Haley Mullin, an incoming freshman, said. “You want to grow up and do that yourself. I always watched it on TV. It’s really cool.”

“It’s an experience like no other, going on that mat in front of thousands of people,” Mangus said.

“My mom, when she found out we’re going, said, ‘No way, y’all are going to Daytona Beach to compete?’” said co-captain Nikki Miller. “She was so impressed that we buckled down and actually did it.”

Winning is the goal, said Makenna Thomas, also an incoming freshman. “I am a very competitive person. This is my dream. We’re all in.”

Success at NCA (National Cheerleaders Association) Cheer Camp in Conway earned the squad the opportunity to compete at Nationals. At camp, the squad received the NCA Spirit Award, and two freshmen – Makenna Thomas and Haley Mullin – were among only three campers invited to apply to join the NCA Staff next year. Camp was held July 28-29 at the University of Central Arkansas.

At Daytona, the team will have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to demonstrate in a single routine “everything there is in cheer,” Mangus said. “At camp, we had to tumble and get the crowd involved. It wasn’t as big of a routine that we’ll have to do at Nationals.”

“I’ve always competed, and I’m looking forward to Daytona. Cheer camp really made us realize what we are getting ourselves into, competing with other college teams,” Mullin said.

At camp, the team had to “excel in different areas,” Mangus said. “We excelled in pyramids and stunts, and in Game Day routine, we killed that – it was really good.”

Prior to leaving for camp, the team members participated in a mini-camp at SAU. “We all really bonded,” Mullin said.

They practiced intensely. “We did three practices a day,” Mangus said. “We prepared for more than we had to do.”

There are 14 cheerleaders on the competition team, coached by Lydia Lindsey, head coach, and Meredith Lawson, director of cheer operations. Mangus, a junior, said she gets a lot of satisfaction out of leading the squad.

“I cheered for two years at Liberty-Eylau (Texarkana),” Mangus said. “I knew I was going to go to SAU since it was only about an hour away, and I wanted to get involved in cheerleading. I tried out for the cheer team, I made it, and it’s been awesome. I am excited to get to cheer two more years.”

“We have outdone ourselves this year,” she said. “We haven’t even really started. We’ve got a great team.”

Mangus was chosen for the NCA Staff in her freshman year at SAU. “When I entered, there were three senior cheerleaders, all on NCA Staff. They noticed my skills and I was encouraged to try out. I did a video with tumbling, stunts and a cheer, and then you hope that, months later, you’ll get a big package in the mail. I did.”

She said she thinks that Mullin and Thomas, who were invited to apply to NCA Staff next year, will enjoy the experience. “I think it would be a good summer job,” Mullin said.

Thomas, who is from Monroe, La., said she has been cheering since eighth grade at Ouachita Parish High School. “I’ve experienced going to NCA Nationals in Florida, and I had a good experience all four years,” she said of cheering in high school. “I’m excited to get to go to Daytona Beach this year. It’s on a college level, so it’s going to be a lot more intense.”

“I like competing, I like showing what we have,” Thomas said.

Mullin comes to SAU from Smackover. “I cheered for eight years, in high school and junior high, and two years on an all-star team. I went to national and state-level competitions in high school. My all-star cheer coach asked me to try out for SAU. I did a video tryout and got a message saying I was on the team.”

Miller is a native of Maud, Texas. “I cheered for two years in junior high and four years in high school, and I was captain for two years,” she said. “I wanted to go to SAU because it was close, but when I came to tour, I just fell in love with it. It felt like home.”

“In high school, I did every sport,” Miller said. “Basketball, track, powerlifting, anything I could. I was also in band. I realized cheer was where I should have been the whole time.”

All four cheerleaders credit much of their success to their coaching. “They are like our moms on campus, Mullin said. “We can go to them for anything.”

“The coaching is absolutely awesome,” Mangus said. “It couldn’t be better. They treat us like we are their own. We’re a big family.”

“Lydia is fun-loving and Meredith is very serious,” Miller said “It’s a good balance. If we’re down, they push us to keep going. They are proud of us.”

The cheerleaders said they keep plenty of room in their schedule for academics.

“Our practice schedule involves school,” Mangus said. “Study hall is mandatory, and that gives us time to get a lot done early. The professors are very flexible with any sport, even cheer, and if we have to be absent they are willing to let us catch up.”

The team members are thrilled about their prospects.

“We’ll practice our routine for Nationals until it is perfect,” Mangus said. “It will have an easy beginning but will get harder toward the end, so we just have to push through the whole time.”

“We can be playful and still push through practice and get stuff done,” Miller said of the team.

“We’re all willing to work really hard, and that’s what makes us a good team,” Mangus said.