MARIETTA, Ga. — The defending champion looked the part on opening day.

Xavier University of Louisiana, the 2022 NAIA Cheer National Championships winner, launched its 2023 season with first-place finishes in the Life University Classic and the Life Duals. The Gold was 10-0 overall Sunday, giving XULA a 43-0 record against all opponents since the start of last season.

XULA scored 93.73 points out of 100 to win the Life Duals – Point was second at 85.33 – then got another victory in the Life Classic with 93.08 points. Mobile was second in that event at 85.81. There were six schools in each event.

“We had a lot of nerves coming into Sunday,” Caston said. “We had to get the nerves out and get comfortable performing in front of a crowd. We still need to improve on our pyramid skills. Overall, we have a lot of work to do.”

Kennedy Baggett, Baker, Banks, Barrett, Brightmon, Brown, Chapman, Clay, Dixon, Dunlap, Hoey, Holt, Reid, Trimmer, Antonio Underwood and Kelsey White traveled to nationals last season when the Gold set a meet record for highest winning score and earned the XULA’s first-ever NAIA national team championship in any sport.

Forty-one NAIA schools have competed thus far, and XULA’s scores vaulted it to No. 1 in average points per meet this season with 93.41. Midland is second with 91.60, Dickinson State is third with 86.96, and 2021 champion Oklahoma City is fourth with 86.75. Indiana Wesleyan, the 2022 runner-up, is 14th at 80.17.

“We don’t feed off rankings,” Caston said. “We work to try to be a better version of ourself than we were the previous competition. The most important rankings are the ones at nationals. We want to continue to work hard and produce a good, quality routine that will score well at nationals.”

Next for XULA: three days of competition on campus at the Convocation Center — the second annual Battle in the Big Easy Feb. 9-10, then the NAIA Unaffiliated Group Championship Feb. 11, where XULA will attempt to qualify for a third consecutive trip to nationals.

NAIA nationals will be March 10-11 at Ypsilianti, Mich.

*Courtesy Xavier New Orleans Sports Information