The Georgia Northwestern Cheer Cats came to the NCA Nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida knowing they were just one of nine squads in the entire country that qualified for the prestigious event in their division.

However, that knowledge, and the experience of being on a national stage, will have to serve as parting gifts.

After placing seventh in Thursday morning’s preliminary session and missing out on an automatic berth in the finals, Georgia Northwestern finished second in Thursday afternoon’s Challenge Cup round, missing out on the final wild-card spot in Friday’s finals by less than a single point.

The Cheer Cats – making their first appearance at Nationals in just their second season as a program – scored a total of 73.75 combined points through their 45-second game day routine and 2:30 long routine in the morning session for Intermediate Co-Ed Division II.

Iowa Central Community College sat in first place after the preliminaries with 80.68 points, followed by the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith (79.10), the University of Texas-Dallas (77.83), Palomar (Cal.) College (76.33) and Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) (75.80).

All five of those squads automatically qualified for Friday’s finals.

In the Challenge Cup round, with the remaining squads in the division once again performing their routines for the judges, Georgia Northwestern scored 75.43 points without a single deduction.

Tyler (Tex.) Junior College was docked four points in deductions during their Challenge Cup performance, but scored higher than the Cheer Cats in other categories, including degree of difficulty, and finished with 76.35 points to hang on for the final spot.

El Paso (Tex.) Community College (74.70) and Embry-Riddle (Fla.) University (72.35) rounded out the Challenge Cup standings.

“Regardless of what happened today, these kids have done so well,” Cheer Cats head coach Karen Stoker said. “We couldn’t be prouder of them. We’re the smallest squad here, but we’re just excited that we were only one of nine squads in the nation that qualified in our division. That says a lot right there.”