Every year, there are a handful of teams who that take center stage, for seemingly random reasons. Often it’s the legacy teams with fan bases from here to Guam, but every so often an underdog team emerges ready to create their own story.
For the 2017-2018, the ladies of Rain Athletics Aqua have found themselves at the center of conversation after a ZERO deduction regular season – something unheard of in cheer. We chatted with owner of Rain Athletics and one of Aqua’s coaches to learn a little bit about the magic happening inside their gym this season.
The Hit Queens Who Won the Crowd’s Heart
Rain Athletics Aqua hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – a town crowded with competitive all star cheerleading programs. Rain Athletics is a young program, only 5 years old, owned and founded by Jacob Parker, Caleigh Epolito, and Jordan Thomas.
The story of Rain’s epic season began in December 2017 when they quietly signed up for the play-in round at Cheer Alliance. Cheer Alliance is a competition that invites the best-of-the-best to compete in a one-night event. Invited teams compete once and teams who signed up for the play-in round must qualify to compete in the main event.
Aqua performed early in the evening Friday evening and walked away with a hit, zero-deduction routine. Their performance score allowed them to move on to the main event, and that’s when the real fun began. Aqua went on to their second performance and hit once more – but this time – it would cause a bit more fanfare.
And that’s because every single team in the main event, both invited and play-in, had, um, some struggles. Each performance had at least one deduction. Aqua was the only team to perform a true hit routine and the cheer world was quick to take notice. In an arena full of the world’s most beloved teams, Aqua was the only one who could pull off their routine.
As the rest of the season went on, they quickly proved that their performances at Cheer Alliance weren’t a fluke. Competition after competition, they continued to hit zero deduction routines. Every time a hit tweet went out, the internet lit up – the words “legends” and “stan” were used a lot.
Just a few weeks ago, Aqua completed their regular competition season with two solid hits. The internet found a new hero this season – and they came guns blazing with zero deductions and a whole lot of heart. It’s one thing to watch a hit routine and it’s another to watch a team have fun while doing it.
— CheerTheory (@CheerTheory) March 25, 2018
Who is Aqua and where’d they come from?
Aqua has competed in the Small Senior 5 division since Rain opened their doors in 2013. Their first year, they had 19 athletes: seven twisted and only one had been to the Cheerleading Worlds before.
Even after receiving advice to switch to Senior Restricted 5, Jacob, Jordan, and Caleigh knew that to be a competitive program, they needed to offer a Worlds team from the start. Despite bystanders’ doubts, they won a full paid bid to the Cheerleading Worlds – an especially important feat for a team competing in Small Senior 5.
Every year since Aqua has gone to Worlds with a full paid bid and become a stronger program since. When I talked to Jacob he said it’s always been about “never backing down.” It’s not about what anyone else thinks about their teams’ performances, it’s about defining their own success.
How Rain Athletics Approaches Their Training
Jacob and his team implement a lot of the same training regiments that are found in the country’s largest programs. He spent his final year cheering on Cheer Extreme Coed Elite, which he says made a huge impact on how he approaches coaching today.
“When Senior Elite was practicing, I would sit feet away from Courtney Pope and listen to every single word she said and watch how she coached. I soaked it up like a sponge” said Jacob.
Knowing that he wanted to coach, Jacob was tactical in determining how he would create his own program and coaching style. It was a similar story for both Caleigh and Jordan. Caleigh spent several years at a program in the Pittsburgh area and then ran Cheer Extreme Charlotte at the same time Jacob was on Coed Elite. Jordan trained at Louisiana Cheer Force and brought tumbling training to the Pittsburgh area that simply didn’t exist before.
Between the three of them, they bring years of experience and training to create an experience for their athletes that’s not easy to find. For anyone that has been an athlete or coached at a larger, successful gym, you know that there is a different expectation. Jacob said it best “There was only one way to do things and that was that.”
They Win by Defining Their Own Success
When I asked what their secret was, he said it was simply about defining their own success. In cheerleading, almost everything is unpredictable, and a win is largely out of your control – it’s a subjective sport.
But there are elements of cheerleading that aren’t out of your control – hitting. Hitting a routine is literally the only thing an athlete and their coaches do have control over at a competition.
“I’ve sat front row at Worlds and watched some of the most iconic routines in history and even those performances fall short and they end up in second,” said Jacob.
And that’s why Rain doesn’t put the focus on the win – it’s about going out there and doing what their training has prepared them for – hitting.
Changing their perspective has helped Rain Athletics across the board in athlete retention and overall happiness. It took a few years for them to get to where they are, but Jacob said it’s the best thing they ever did.
What makes this year’s athletes special?
When asked what makes this year different, two factors stand out. One, they (the coaches) have become more strict. Their teams need to hit in the gym at their last practice before they leave for competition.
And two, this year’s athletes hold themselves accountable and push each other before a coach even has an opportunity to chime in. He said they push one another to do better and bring everyone along with them.
Their Big Plans for the Cheerleading Worlds 2018
“We’re just going to do us” – their number one goal is to hit their routine and make finals. As you probably already know, making finals in the Small Senior 5 division is among the hardest. In an epically talented division as large as Small Senior, breaking top 10 is difficult. Rain is seeking to make finals for the very first time.
We know we’ll be in the corner cheering for them as they continue to wow the world.