Up to this point Kaitlyn Savage’s competitive cheerleading responsibility has included keeping both feet on the ground. When she dons Coastal Carolina University’s teal and white uniform, things will take off for her … literally.
Savage, who graduated from Lugoff-Elgin High School last Saturday, signed a National Letter of Intent to continue to her academic and cheerleading pursuits at CCU recently in a ceremony held inside the L-E Wellness Center.
Plenty will change for the former Demon cheerleader both in and away from the classroom when she arrives at the Coastal Carolina campus in Conway. To this point in her 10 years as a cheerleader --- starting with working out in a gym when she was eight years old through Lugoff-Elgin Middle School and then, Lugoff-Elgin High School ---, Savage worked as a base. The base is the foundation of cheering stunts with those occupying that role lifting or throwing their teammates.
Come this fall, Savage will take to the air as a flier. She will be getting the free ride of being thrown into the air by male cheerleaders at football games and in competitions by her female colleagues. The flier is one of the most sought-after spots in cheerleading as girls are thrown or, lifted into the air.
For someone whose rarely strayed from the ground, hardwood or mat, becoming a first-time flier is not the easiest of transitions for a cheerleader to make Savage said.
“I’m used to basing (holding the top girls up), but flying is a whole different ballgame,” Savage said with a smile which broke into a laugh. “It’s almost scary and, I will have to get used to it. There is a lot of body control and flexibility involved. I’ll have to work a lot on that.”
“Flying’s a lot harder. I’ll have to work a lot on that part of it.”
When asked just how far she will fly during games and competitions, Savage simply shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know, yet,” she said a bit nervously.
Lugoff-Elgin cheer coach Kelly Bowers said if there is anyone who can make the switch from the standing to an airborne position, it is Savage who Bowers coached as a seventh-grader at L-E Middle before working as the cheerleading coach at L-E the past two years.
“She’s going to have a lot of work to do,” Bowers said as to what Savage will expect to see change as a college cheerleader. “There are going to be early morning practices. She is also going to be doing some flying, which is something she has never done before because she has always been a base. That’s something that she is going to have to work on and do some catching up on. She is one who has a good work ethic and she will learn how to do it.”
Before cheering factored into the equation, Savage needed to find a school which was a good fit academically and socially. She found what she was looking for at Coastal.
“I really like being near the beach and I also like the cheer team. I thought they had a family feel,” she said of the reasons for choosing to sign with CCU. “I really liked the campus. I thought it was pretty.”
At L-E, Bowers said, Savage was someone who knew everyone’s role on the Lady Demons’ squad. If a fellow team member needed a helping hand, Bowers said Savage was there to provide it.
“Kaitlyn’s very knowledgeable,” Bowers said. “She is a great base. She worked both as a main base and as a secondary base for us. She is great in that position, but she also has a knowledge of cheer, in general, so she is able to help other girls who are struggling in any position to try and help them make stunts go well. She also worked with tumbling and even with motions, tumbling and other things that make the package, as a whole, good.”
Attending Savage’s signing ceremony was CCU head cheerleading coach David Almeida who accepted the position prior to the 2017-18 academic year. A former National Cheerleading Association champion, Almeida has brought stability to the program which competes at the Division I level.
Savage said even though she has yet to set foot on the CCU campus as a student-athlete, she understands much more goes into cheerleading in college than high school.
“I think the rules are a lot stricter,” she said of the discipline which Almeida demands from his squad. “He has already told us a lot of rules that we will have. I think that’s good; it will keep us in line. I also think the competition will be a lot better and more competitive at the collegiate level.”
Like virtually every major college sports program, the CCU cheerleading team has a nutritionist working with the group to make sure they are putting the right foods into their bodies to maintain an effective weight while remaining flexible enough to pull off all the stunt work involved.
“Staying in shape is very important, especially being a flier,” Savage said. “If I gain weight, it will be tougher on my bases. I am going to try and eat healthier. We’ve already received our summer workouts and we have to do that every day this summer.”
Saying she is a bit nervous as to how tough it will be juggling academics and her cheerleading responsibilities, Savage said the latter part is harder than most people in the stands, most who have never cheered before, believe.
“It’s just a lot harder. The level of difficulty is insane,” she said of cheering as a sport. “It’s going to be hard to keep up with the other teams, but I’m looking forward to that challenge.”
“Kaitlyn is one of the kindest young ladies that I know,” said Bowers who feels Savage will have little problem fitting in and being a positive presence at CCU. “She is a very positive person, very outgoing and very helpful to other people. She also has a great passion for cheerleading.”
Savage and her teammates will cheer at CCU football games and volleyball matches. When asked if she follows sports, Savage smiled and paused as she continues on the next step of her dream.
“Aaaaaaah … sure,” she said. “I like watching football; I think football is interesting. We also get to cheer for the volleyball team which, I think, is cool because I’ve never done that before as a cheerleader.
“I’ve dreamed about this for awhile. I’m super, super excited.”
So, too is Bowers who said having a cheerleader sign with a Division I school is a shot in the arm for her program.
“It’s really great,” Bowers said. “I think it will encourage other girls who are interested in doing this in the future to see that even though we are up against some stiff competition being in 5A, that we do have the ability for girls to go on in the sport after high school.”