Former Bluejay Nicole Brey completes successful collegiate cheerleading career
Nicole Brey, a student at Ottawa University (OU) and graduate of Sabetha High School, has just completed her final year of competitive cheerleading and recalls her love for the sport.
Brey’s earliest memory with cheer began when she started performing competitively in sixth grade.
“I had just finished all the levels of tumbling at Little Steps Dance and Gymnastics Studio in Seneca and wanted to do more, so the owner and my mentor, Sharon Deters, introduced me to their competitive cheer program,” Brey said. “I remember being lifted in the air for the first time and being terrified and exhilarated at the same time. I remember learning what a toe touch was, and all the new and exciting tricks I would get to do.”
Even before doing cheer as a serious activity, Brey was constantly doing tricks and flips in her youth, almost as though she were born to perform.
“I never thought I would be a cheerleader, but from a young age I was always flipping around and doing cartwheels anywhere I could, so my parents put me in tumbling classes in elementary school. This soon became my passion, and once I outgrew them, cheer was the next step to take,” Brey said.
She continued to compete with Little Steps Dance and Gymnastics All Starz through middle school and high school, as well as participated in Sabetha High School (SHS) cheer her sophomore, junior and senior years. She also competed to be All-American at cheer camp, which she received her sophomore, junior and senior years of high school.
According to Brey, there are different positions for each cheerleader when stunting, including the bases and flyers.
“Stunts are the builds that cheerleaders perform when they lift or throw someone in the air. The bases are the people who do the lifting and catching, while the flyers are the ones being lifted,” Brey said.
“I have always been a flyer and loved this position,” Brey said. “To some people, it may seem crazy, but I love being lifted and thrown in the air. The flyer is the one who also engages with the crowd the most, and who the judges look at the most when competing. It’s our job to make the stunts look easy and effortless by having a calm smile on our faces, even if that is not the case.”
Kristina Castillo, Brey’s SHS cheer coach during senior year, speaks highly of Brey and her accomplishments.
“Nicole is a strong team member regardless of where she cheers, but I felt like auditioning and being selected as a member of the National Cheerleading Association staff was one of her top achievements,” Castillo said. “That summer, she was one of the staff members at the camp we attended. We [the team and I] loved when she would come around to our group to help us! She was knowledgeable, friendly and fun!”
As a high school junior, Brey attended numerous college career cheer clinics in order to continue her career at a college level. During her senior year at a home basketball game in 2016, she met a graduate assistant from Ottawa seeking recruitment for the OU cheer team.
“He told us about OU and the cheer program and piqued my interest, so I visited the college and the team not too long after that,” Brey said.
After meeting her future coaches and teammates, she realized OU was where she belonged.
“Once I got there, it felt like home,” Brey said. “I loved the coaches, the members of the cheer team, and the supportive atmosphere. I knew that was where I wanted to continue my cheerleading career.”
“I also loved that it was a small Christian school, so I knew I would be able to have a personal relationship with my professors and know most of the students on campus,” Brey said.
At OU, Brey helped the Ottawa Braves place in multiple competitions, including the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) Championship in 2018 and 2019, as well as the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) National Championship her freshman, sophomore and junior years.
Brey also received individual awards, including the Champions of Character award at the KCAC Championship two years in a row, Second Team All-KCAC honors her sophomore year and First Team All-KCAC honors her junior year.
Brey was an active member on her college team and worked her way to becoming a natural-born leader.
“I have watched Nicole throughout the semesters transform into a totally new person,” said Brittany Durrah, OU head cheer coach. “She is the type of leader that anyone can come to with any issues. She is so focused on team goals and how she can help reach them.”
Being a cheerleader isn’t always easy, though. Like most sports, cheerleading can cause injury and hardships.
“At the end of my junior year of high school, I got a bulging disc in my back from tumbling and had to go through physical therapy to recover,” Brey said. “It is still something I deal with to this day, but it is manageable and I wasn’t ready to give up the sport I love because of it.”
Sometimes, the hardships you face aren’t because of something physical. According to Brey, she also faced mental challenges.
“Even though I love tumbling and stunting, I’ve had to overcome many mental blocks from skills I’ve gotten injured on,” Brey said. “Even though you know you can do it, there’s often a small voice in the back of your head telling you, ‘you can’t’ or ‘you’re going to hurt yourself.’ You have to learn how to overcome those fears and push through, and when you finally do the feeling is like none other.”
Even though times were hard, Brey greatly enjoyed cheer and found that bad times can have a quick turn around.
“My favorite memory was winning our conference championship last year. We had been struggling throughout the year, but that day we performed like we knew we could,” Brey said. “We had a perfect routine and got zero deductions, and while we were performing the routine, our energy and support were palpable. We were all on the same page, and when we finished we were bursting with excitement and overcome with emotions.”
“It was an amazing feeling to know all of our hard work had paid off, and we were all so grateful to be a part of such an amazing and hard-working team,” Brey said.
“What stuck out the most to me as a coach watching Nicole perform was, no matter how nervous she was she always did her best,” Durrah said. “And even if the end results were not what we were hoping, she would gather herself as an athlete and lead her team on what we could have done better as a program and what all she could have done better as an individual.”
During her cheerleading career, and even after it ended, Brey had received much love and support from her friends, family and school coaches.
“My parents have always taught me to put 100 percent effort into everything I do, and I am grateful for their constant support through attending all of my competitions and games,” Brey said.
“My coaches at OU — Shayla Siebenthall, Joe Oliver and Brittany Durrah — have been amazing as well. I accomplished more than I ever could have imagined under their direction,” Brey said. “They believed in me when I didn’t always believe in myself and made me into a better athlete and person.”
“The crowd loved watching Nicole cheer, especially when she was throwing her back tuck or doing some kind of difficult stunt,” Castillo said. “Nicole was fun to watch as a tumbler and as a flier, and she has amazing jumps!”
Brey was greatly influenced and supported by Sharon Deters, her competitive cheer coach at Little Steps Dance and Gymnastics Studio.
“She [Deters] truly cared about all of her athletes and pushed us to the best of our abilities,” Brey said. “She always had faith in me and supported me on and off the mat.”
Currently, Brey is student teaching at an elementary school in Kearney, Mo. Even though she doesn’t plan to participate in cheer at this time, Brey thinks she will be involved in the future.
“I will continue to stunt and tumble for fun when I can, but I will probably no longer be a part of a team. One day, I can see myself coaching high school cheer, and staying involved that way,” Brey said.
“I hope that Nicole has the classroom of her dreams,” Durrah said. “Taking everything that she has learned, not only from the cheer world but from her other leadership roles, and transform today’s youth into the full potential students of success she sees them to be.”