EDITOR’S NOTE: The UCF cheerleaders finished third at the College Cheerleading and Dance National Championships, behind Kentucky and Alabama. UCF’s KnightMoves dance team placed ninth.

It is now the fans’ time to cheer for their own UCF spirit program.

The Knights will be competing at Nationals this weekend, Jan. 14-15, in Orlando’s own backyard, ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. They will be seeking their third national championship — UCF won in 2003 and 2007.

As the competition quickly approaches, the level of excitement rises within the team. UCF senior cheerleading Danielle Walden is confident about the team’s routine. “I think we are very prepared,” Walden said. The team has been performing at halftime at men’s basketball games, in front of alumni cheerleaders, as well as other teams from Mississippi State, Ohio State, LSU and Tennessee, who will also be competing this weekend.

As a senior, Walden is very excited to compete at a National level one last time. “It is bittersweet because it is my last year,” Walden said. “But I am very excited because the team is extremely ready to go out there and perform.”

To help them get prepared, the team keeps something in mind everyday: work hard. And that is why head coach Linda Gooch got an actual hard hat.

“The hard hat represents the working class, blue collar mentality. It is something that we really drilled in this group,” Gooch said. “We told them `if you continue to work hard, we are going to be prepared for this competition’ and I wanted a visual symbol of that.”

The week leading up to the National Championships, every time an individual hit all of their parts in the routine, they get to put a sticker on the hard hat with the goal being that they would completely cover it by the time of Finals.

“A lot of times all you think about are the failures; the times that you have dropped or the times that you have fallen short and it’s a way to remind them of the times that they have been perfect,” Gooch said. “It represents how well they are doing and how much they have progressed and improved.”

Gooch also talked about this year’s extremely talented group and how it was something that they really had to put a lot of work into getting them to this point. “Sometimes you have tons of talent and it’s just really easy and it’s not really developing the talent. It’s more managing the talent,” Gooch said. “This year we really had to develop the talent and when you watch them perform, you see it.”

As a member of one of the top squads in the country, UCF cheerleaders must stay motivated and have a great deal of time management. Balancing being a student-athlete and being on the team can be challenging at times, but like Walden says, “staying focused is key.”

Gooch could not agree more. “I think everyone is unselfish until they have to give something up, and this group has done a great job at putting their personal wants and needs aside for the betterment of the team.”

Aside from their evident excitement and passion, Gooch believes the team is “physically prepared” but also believes that when the time comes, it is the mental aspect that really matters.

“You have to be perfect when it counts. The competition is not really about which team is the best, it’s about which team is the best in that two minutes and 30 seconds,” Gooch added.