Western Kentucky University has been a strong competitor in Division IA at the UCA & UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship for many years, but the Toppers' most recent addition to the program is sure to have them climbing the ranks even higher for years to come.
Ryan Martin O’Connor is returning home to the Bluegrass State to take on the role of Head Cheerleading Coach and Spirit Coordinator for Western Kentucky University.
Before heading to WKU, O’Connor was making waves in the cheerleading industry at the University of Mississippi. Over her three year stay in Oxford, O’Connor helped lead the Rebels to their first-ever UCA National Championship title.
“Not only did my teams perform well on a national level, but we improved our image in our community and on campus,” O’Connor said. “We raised our team GPA and our graduation rate. We became a team that everyone on campus respected and enjoyed working with. We accomplished so many of my goals and I am incredibly proud of all of the people I had the chance to coach there. They are what made me fall in love with Ole Miss.”
While excited to start her journey with WKU, O’Connor said she is going to miss her athletes at Ole Miss and hopes to stay in touch.
“They are what makes Ole Miss special,” she said. “I hope I will always stay in touch with them because they have made a huge impact on me. My coach left Alabama after my sophomore year and he is still someone I call on for advice in all situations. I hope I can still be that for some of these awesome students.”
Along with being back in her home state, O’Connor was drawn to the support WKU showed for their spirit program.
“The biggest thing that drew me to WKU was the support and desire to win from the administration,” she added. “I could tell from phone calls and from in-person meetings that the athletic department, campus, and community are dedicated and passionate. They truly see their cheerleading programs as a priority, and it was obvious from the way they spoke about their athletes. I am ready to get started and to make them proud.”
O'Connor is a Kentucky native and she began her cheer career at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, just a quick two-hour drive east of WKU.
While at Dunbar, O’Connor accumulated multiple championship titles including five KAPOS state championship titles and five UCA National High School Cheerleading Championship titles.
After high school, she went on to cheer at the University of Kentucky from 2008-09 and then at the University of Alabama from 2009-12, where she won another UCA National Championship title in 2011. O’Connor finished out her time as an athlete on the US National Team from 2011-2013 where she won three ICU World Championship titles.
It's no secret that cheerleading in Kentucky is highly competitive. At both the high school and collegiate level, the state brings home multiple national championship titles ever year. O’Connor is ready to be back in the middle of all that talent and she hopes to start recruiting these athletes for WKU.
“I am THRILLED to be back in the state of Kentucky. There is just something in the water here that makes cheerleading different. It's hard to explain to someone on the outside and you don't have to explain it to people on the inside. I am excited to live closer to my family and to give my son a chance at the life I had growing up.”
O’Connor added that as soon as she could announce her new position, she was making phone calls and sending texts to high school coaches throughout Kentucky to recruit.
“I am so excited to be surrounded by so many amazing coaches and athletes here in Kentucky,” she said. “WKU is already a great program, but we are ready to be a contender at nationals every single year in both All Girl and Coed.”
While O’Connor was ready to hit the ground running with WKU, her coaching transition has been a bit out of the ordinary with the recent effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With everyone practicing social distancing, O’Connor wasn’t able to say goodbye to the Ole Miss program in person or meet the WKU program in person.
“This is a very strange time for all of us right now in the industry and across the world,” she said. “We are all out of our comfort zone and having to get creative. It's hard for me right now because I don't really know any of my athletes. I don't know who my leaders are. I don't know who I need to check in on and give a little extra push. I am still reaching out and pushing my Ole Miss athletes and trying to help them through this time while reaching out to my new athletes to see how I can help them.”
While everyone waits on life to return to normal, O’Connor is keeping her athletes active with home workouts and she is also sending out questionnaires to help her get to know them better. WKU is planning to hold video tryouts soon and her goal is to select two teams that will represent Western Kentucky the best they can on the sidelines, in the classroom, in the community, and in competition.
“I am just praying for our world right now and especially for all of our students who are missing out on time with their team. I always tell my kids that the part they will miss the most will be being a part of a team. I hate that they are missing out on this time and I hope we will be back to it soon. I want us to work hard, be good people and make everyone involved with WKU proud! I have no doubt that you will be hearing about WKU All Girl and Coed again very soon!”
Be sure to keep an eye out on O’Connor and the Hilltoppers as they take on the 2021 UCA & UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team Championship in January.
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