GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Kate Copperud was only an eighth grader when the NCAA Regional tournament came to her home state of Colorado, but she knew then that she wanted to skate in college. But it wasn’t the hockey players who inspired her.
“It was UND and U of M (Minnesota) and they were playing each other, and they both had hockey cheerleaders and I was like, ‘I want to do that,’” Copperud said.
Copperud, along with Kendra Patten and Kira Stenehjem, is one of three seniors on the hockey cheer team who will be wrapping up their careers this month and performing at their final home games this weekend.
“It’s kind of sad, because it’s just gone so fast,” Copperud said. “Looking back on the four years, it’s like ‘Am I really done?’ But I mean, it’s a good feeling too, knowing that I did everything that I wanted to do when I came here.”
Stenehjem and Patten agreed that the feeling as their time with the cheer team winds down is bittersweet.
“Before, I kind of thought that this was going to be really exciting and really fun and I would be so ready to be done with hockey cheerleading,” Stenehjem said. “But now that we only have one series left, it’s actually very sad.”
But Stenehjem also said that there’s a feeling of completeness that comes with it.
“A lot of hockey cheerleaders, they don’t always go for four years, so I feel very complete,” she said. “And I’m happy to finish up the season strong.”
“It’s just kind of weird because it’s been such a big part of my life for the last four years,” Patten said. “It’ll be a lot different to be in the stands. I’m going to miss it a lot.”
Unlike Copperud, Patten didn’t come to North Dakota with her mind set on becoming a hockey cheerleader.
“It’s been a great experience to be able to skate while I’m in college,” she said. “I grew up doing that and that was the main thing I wanted to do while I was still in college and it just seemed like the fun way to still be able to do it. And so I didn’t originally join the team because I wanted to cheerlead. It was to skate. But I’ve grown to love both parts of it.”
All three have fond memories from the past four years with the team.
“One of my favorite memories was going to the (NCAA) Frozen Four my freshman year,” Stenehjem said. “We went to St. Paul and we got to skate at the Frozen Four and it just felt so great to be there.
“There was so much energy and we had a blast and all the fans were there from UND. That definitely was the best experience I’ve ever had.”
Copperud said that the games against Minnesota were always personal favorites because of the crowds.
“Everyone’s so rowdy,” she said. “And traveling with the team to Frozen Fours and (WCHA) Final Fives, probably my best memories come from those because the UND support there is just amazing. And it just really gets you going.”
Patten recalled the lessons she learned from her first performance four years ago.
“My first game was a long time ago but I still remember I was so nervous about messing up that I forgot to smile,” Patten said. “And running back up the stairs after we were done dancing to the song that was playing, one of the people in the stands told me, ‘You could at least smile, you know.’ And I completely forgot about that.
“So that’s one of the first things I tell the girls when we have a new team in the fall. I just stress, ‘Make sure you don’t forget to smile! If you remember one thing, remember to do that.’”
Though all three have had a fun experience with the cheer team over the past four years, they’ve also put a lot of hard work into making those moments and memories possible.
“Normally we skate early in the morning on Wednesdays for about an hour and a half,” Stenehjem said. “At 6 a.m. we’re on the ice, and we also do land practice on Tuesday evenings as well, and then skating on the weekends. So it does take some time and sometimes it can be a little difficult to balance both school and cheerleading. You have to be very, very organized to be able to do it well. But it’s all worth it.”
Patten feels that putting in enough work to make sure that the performances go smoothly is a crucial part of the sport.
“It’s our job to make it look easy and polished and like it’s effortless,” she said. “It’s kind of a thing with figure skating; it looks so effortless, everything that they’re doing. It’s really impressive, but it doesn’t look like it’s difficult for them most of the time. And that’s one of the things that’s really important about skating. If you look strained or look like you’re struggling, it doesn’t have the same effect as if you look like it’s completely effortless.”
The experiences that Codderup, Patten, and Stenehjem have had with the team at North Dakota have been extremely unique and rewarding.
“We’ve met the Sioux logo creator, NHL players, just people that are really predominant in the community and stuff, which has been so cool because I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I just was a student here and I wasn’t involved,” Codderup said.
“As figure skaters, we tend to really love our sport,” Stenehjem said. “It’s funny because there’s lots of tears a lot of the time, but ultimately we really do love it. And to be able to cheer for four years in college has been an amazing experience.”
“I just look back over my years on the team and how much I’ve grown as an individual,” Patten said. “It’s just been so great to be able to help younger members when they come onto the team and teach them how to cheer and help through routines and stuff like that.
"It becomes rewarding because you see how much you’ve influenced the team over the years," Patten continued, "and when you’re giving back to the team, it’s making the team even better.”