The last month and a half can only be described as a whirlwind for Los Gatos High senior Sophie Takeuchi.
In early April, she was considering three great options for college: Clemson, Penn State and a university in Paris, France. That’s when an opportunity of a lifetime came in the form of a tryout with the University of Arizona competitive cheerleading team.
Takeuchi jumped—make that flew—for the chance to earn a spot on the team. From April 28-30, Arizona held tryouts for the 2023-2024 season and Takeuchi passed with flying colors. Like all sports, cheerleading has positions and Takeuchi happens to be a flyer.
That means she is one of the few cheerleaders who gets lifted and thrown during various stunts in a routine. Flyers are typically smaller than the other positions and have to perform acrobatic flips and twists in the air, and because of that garner a lot of the crowd’s attention.
They also have to trust in their bases and spotters to catch and protect them, which gives them the confidence to perform their moves without hesitation. That dynamic is why Takeuchi loved her time on the Los Gatos sideline cheer and competitive teams her senior year.
“One thing I love about cheer is you have to trust your team and the community you’re in,” she said. “Having that much trust in each other makes you so close to them and makes you best friends [because of everything that’s involved within the sport].”
Takeuchi’s Arizona tryout consisted of two parts spread out over two days. The first portion, a grueling five-hour affair, tested her athleticism and skills, including jumps, stunts and tumbling. Takeuchi had to learn the Arizona fight song and perform a dance routine in front of a panel of judges.
After passing that round, Takeuchi came back the next day for a series of interviews. Later that same night, April 30, Takeuchi received an email notifying her she had made the team. Overjoyed and excited, Takeuchi didn’t wait long to commit to the program, having already toured the Tucson campus.
“I really loved the college when I toured it and I love warm weather so to have summer [basically] year-round is going to be nice,” she said.
Takeuchi credited Los Gatos cheer coach Cecelia Alvarado for jump-starting the process of her landing at U of A. Alvarado recommended Takeuchi to contact the U of A cheer coaches in the first week of April, and by the end of the month, she had gone through tryouts, passed them and committed to the program.
“My coach knew I wanted to cheer in college and she told me about their program,” Takeuchi said. “I liked the school and had committed to the University of Arizona already, so I was really excited when I got the opportunity just to go and try out for them.”
The clincher was Arizona offered her major of physical therapy, which was paramount.
“I was really excited about that because my undergraduate [degree and work] matters a lot for me,” she said.
Takeuchi has a dance and gymnastics background but said “cheering wasn’t my thing” until she started taking cheer classes in middle school.
“I did classes at all star gyms but I wasn’t on all star teams,” she said. “I just wanted to try it out and had done other sports before, but none of them really stuck.”
She took to the sport quickly and made an immediate impact in her freshman season only to have Covid wipe out a big chunk of her sophomore and junior high school season. Takeuchi said the highlight of her senior season came last September when Los Gatos’ competitive cheer squad won all of its divisions and categories in one of the first meets of the year in Fresno.
“A teammate and I got to compete in a separate portion of the competition where we got to show our jumping and tumbling skills, and both of us got the jump and tumble awards,” she said. “It was the first competition back from Covid so we were all really excited to be there.”