Four local alumni from West Orange High and Dr. Phillips High are part of UCF’s nationally respected cheerleading program. Together, they have helped pump up home crowds during the Knights' remarkable 9-0 start to the season.
ORLANDO The UCF Knights football team is having arguably its best season in program history.
The Knights are 9-0, ranked within the top-15 teams in the country in the Associated Press, Coaches and College Football Playoff Polls, and have a good chance at playing in one of college football’s elite bowl games.
It’s been a wild ride so far — especially for four local alumni who are on UCF’s cheerleading team.
For West Orange alumni Miterson Charles, Juliana Coipel and Alec Holland, as well as Dr. Phillips alumna Stephanie Hierholzer, being a part of the game day atmosphere through sideline cheering at Spectrum Stadium this fall has been a blast, with one notable wrinkle — so many push-ups.
Like many programs at the collegiate and high-school levels, a cheerleader at UCF will do push-ups after every score by the Knights, to mirror the number of points the team has scored to that point.
With the Knights' average of 45.5 points per game this fall — which is second-best in the nation behind Oklahoma — that has meant that push-ups have become an integral part of cheer practice.
“I’ve done 22 (during a game) before — it’s a lot of push-ups,” Hierholzer said with a laugh. “At our team workouts, we’ve been doing a lot of push-ups to train for these games.”
Hierholzer is the most experienced of the local alumni at UCF. A senior, the fun of this season is especially memorable for her, as the Dr. Phillips alumni remembers what it was like when the Knights went 0-12 in 2015.
“I think this season has stood out the most to me, just because I was a part of the 0-12 season,” she said. “It’s just been really cool to see how the program has changed and evolved and it’s really cool to be a part of.”
As an upperclassman on the team, Hierholzer has traveled for some of the team’s away games this fall, saying that the atmosphere when the Knights played against Maryland in College Park was very memorable.
Hierholzer was on the radar of UCF’s program dating back to even before she was a Panther, when she was a standout cheerleader at the competitive youth level.
That, however, was not the case for Charles and Holland.
Both of the West Orange alumni played other sports in high school — Charles was a standout football player and Holland a talented goalie for the soccer team — before being recruited to competitive cheering by Warriors coach Alicia Light, since it did not conflict with their main sports at the time.
Charles says cheerleading in college was not even on his radar until the spring of his senior year of high school — but he is glad that the opportunity at UCF materialized.
“It’s definitely different than I expected but it’s definitely worth the experience — it’s just like being a college athlete (in any other sport),” Charles said.
For Light, who also has athletes on the team at UCF from her time at Freedom High, being able to see her former student-athletes cheer for a program of the Knights’ caliber — as she did recently when UCF hosted Austin Peay — is a real treat.
“It’s amazing to see them to go on and be in a program that is nationally ranked and known,” Light said. “It was awesome to be able to see them on the sideline and see them in action — to see them putting into play everything they worked on starting here and then moving on.”
Along with Coipel, the former Warriors and their teammate from Dr. Phillips are proof that the national powerhouse cheerleading program that coach Linda Gooch has built at UCF is possible, in large part, because of the local talent.
Gooch praised all four for their dedication to the program and their strong academic performance (all four have a 3.0 GPA or better while at UCF), adding that the talent pool in Central Florida has been pivotal to the program’s growth.
“There’s no question — cheerleading is a big deal in Florida,” Gooch said. “If you’re talking about West Orange High, you’re talking about a high school that has three athletes that came to us out of the same school, and to be able to compete at the level that we are — that really speaks highly to their training in high school.”