Flying into Collegiate Cheer

Senior Liz Oltjen made the Kansas State University 2019-2020 cheer team, earning a spot on both the competition and game day teams.


Photo sumbitted by Liz Oltjen

Standing in the middle of the Power Cat, senior Liz Oltjen beams with excitment after making the Kansas State University cheer team April 28.

Molly Conway, Print Managing Editor

Clenching her fists sitting in the Power Cat, senior Liz Oltjen anxiously waits to hear the number 32 announced. About 15 names in, the number 32 that she wore on her tryout bib was called and echoed throughout the indoor football arena, meaning that Oltjen had made the Kansas State University cheer team.

“Hearing my number called was pure, genuine joy,” Oltjen said. “I was so happy that I cried. This is something that I have wanted my whole life and something that I never thought was possible, as cheesy as it sounds it truly is a dream come true.”

Competitive cheer and cheering on KSU were both a big part of Oltjen’s childhood. Growing up her family had season tickets to the KSU football games and Oltjen was never interested in football but loved going to the games to watch the cheerleaders.

“My parents knew how much I loved watching the cheerleaders and so they let me go to the Cats Closet store there and get a mini KSU cheer uniform when I was about 4,” Oltjen said. “Even when we weren’t actually at the games and just watching them on TV, I would get my poms and do cheers next to the TV and pretend to be a cheerleader for the KSU football team.”

Oltjen took her living room cheerleading to the next level in third grade when she joined her first competitive cheer team through All American Cheer and Stunts. Oltjen enjoyed her time at AACS but in fifth grade joined a team at Kansas City Athletic Cheer to help her grow as a cheerleader, according to Oltjen.

“Although I enjoyed my time with AACS and my first real cheer experience, I decided that it would be best to move to KCAC because the coaching staff there would be a better fit to help me grow as a cheerleader.”

Upon entering high school, Oltjen made the school’s cheer team and stopped cheering with KCAC. Oltjen cheered on the school’s team as a flyer for all four years of high school and served as the team’s captain her senior year.

“Liz has worked so hard for everything and is such a role model for me,” sophomore teammate and sister Jane Oltjen said. “Liz is a very positive and funny person and it’s been so amazing growing up and cheering together with her, I’m so proud and happy for her.”

At the beginning of her junior year, Oltjen started to seriously consider trying out for the KSU team, as it was always something that she wanted to do but something that she never thought was possible, according to Oltjen. One of the main differences between high school and collegiate cheer is that high school cheer stunt groups typically consist of four girls vs. collegiate cheer implements coed stunting. Oltjen spent several hours a week during her senior year at the gym working on her tumbling and stunting skills.

“A big part of college cheer is stunting on guys instead of a group of like four girls and so that was something that I had to take the time out of senior year to learn how to coed stunt,” Oltjen said. “I knew that that would really help me during tryouts and so I decided to do it.”

Before tryouts, Oltjen learned two pom dances, the KSU fight song and the Wabash Cannonball, and attended four open gyms clinics. The first round of tryouts required tumbling, jumping and stunting, and at the end of night 1 a list of those advancing was read off and those selected advanced to the finals.

“When my number was called to advance to finals I was so relieved and so excited at the same time,” Oltjen said. “After I heard my number I just started thinking about how I was going to prepare for finals.”

The final round of tryouts required higher level stunts and the competitors performing the two pom dances they learned: the Wabash Cannonball and the KSU fight song. Although Oltjen was nervous before the final tryout, being surrounded by the nice new girls she had met calmed her down.

“I was definitely nervous heading into the final round but fortunately I had met a really nice group of girls in my stunt group and we got really close really fast,” Oltjen said. “That worked out really well though because we encouraged each other the whole time and we hit all of our stunts together at finals and we ended up all making the team together.”

A couple of hours after tryouts were over the group gathered again and the coach read the list of numbers of the girls that made the team. Oltjen’s name was about 15th to be called, and as soon as the coach was done Oltjen saw her mom bawling and went on a dead sprint and gave her the biggest hug, according to Oltjen.

“When the coach read her number, 32, Liz turned around to look at me, and we both just had our hands over our mouths, sort of in shock,” Oltjen’s mother Rita said. “It seemed like an eternity as we waited for all the numbers to be read, but she ran to me as soon as she could and we were just so happy all we could do was hug and cry.  It was one of those parent moments, I’ll never forget.”

The KSU cheer team has a large squad, but within that team a smaller squad makes up the competition team. Oltjen was offered a spot on both is thrilled to continue her cheerleading career in college on a competitive level.

“Making the KSU cheer team is an amazing accomplishment. I am so incredibly proud of her and feel very blessed to have been lucky enough to coach her for even just one year,” head cheer coach Tabby McCarthy said. “I’m so excited for her and the adventure she is about to go on and I can’t wait to watch her. I’m looking forward to having her visit our squad, as I know she is and will be an inspiration for many Sion cheerleaders.”

Oltjen looks forward to growing even more as a cheerleader these next four years and wants to give the credit to her parents for supporting her and helping her get to where she is today, according to Oltjen.

“I was nowhere near ready to give up cheer,” Oltjen said. “It is something I love and something that I am so beyond thankful that I get to keep doing.”