When Carly Landow was a freshman at Robbinsville High School, she had to write a paper for English class on where she saw herself after four years at RHS. Without hesitation, Landow wrote that she wanted to be a University of Kentucky cheerleader.
To put that in perspective, it was akin to a football player saying he wanted to play for Alabama or a basketball player wanting to make the Duke team.
It was a lofty goal that would be achieved by a microscopic percentage of high school cheer hopefuls.
Landow has become one of the few.
Four years later, the UK freshman has gained that elite status, as she is now part of the Wildcats cheerleading dynasty.
Kentucky has won 24 National Cheer competitions, including four straight from 2016-19. Playing in the Southeast Conference, the Wildcat football and basketball teams—and their cheerleaders —are seen countless times on national TV.
“It was an honor to be chosen to be a University of Kentucky cheerleader, it has always been a dream of mine ever since I can remember,” said Landow, who is now on campus in Lexington. “I had attended many different cheer clinics and was very fortunate to be recruited by several universities that had amazing cheer programs along with outstanding academic programs.”
And while Landow had her pick of the best, there was never a doubt where she wanted to be.
It did not happen, however, without a little drama.
After Landow attended the renowned The Cheerleading Magazine clinic, the TCLM owner sent her skills tape to then-Kentucky coach Jomo Thompson.
“She told me she thought I had what it takes to become a UK cheerleader,” Landow said. “From that point on, those words motivated me every day to push myself to make the dream come true. I also attended a cheer clinic at the University of Kentucky as a junior in high school and was pulled aside at the end of the clinic and asked to come to the squad’s practice the next day. Coach Jomo and I were in touch after that.”
Despite Thompson’s fierce interest, Landow would still have to try out for the team late in senior year, which is the usual protocol. The coach’s interest was so great that it seemed like a mere formality.
Suddenly, things got dicey.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a cancellation of the April tryout, so Landow would have to bide her time. But in May, Thompson and his entire staff were fired due to a hazing scandal, meaning the man who courted Landow would not be assessing her tryout.
Ryan Martin O’Connor was named head coach on June 23, and Landow would have to prove herself to someone entirely new.
While many girls might panic, Landow merely shrugged and remained confident.
“Some of the schools she had been considering already had tryouts and picked their whole team so she couldn’t transfer,” Robbinsville High cheer coach Lauren Kenney said. “She handled herself better than most adults would have in that situation. She had faith that it was gonna work out. It speaks to her character to have that commitment.
“I talked to her mom on the phone when it all broke. She said ‘You know Carly, she’s still working out.’ We talked about her plan to still go to Kentucky. Even though Jomo was the one recruiting her and the one who showed interest in her joining the program, she just had faith if she kept working out and stayed in shape and was able to do the skills, that she would still fit into the program.”
For Landow, going elsewhere never entered her mind. She continued to work on her tumbling skills on a small blow-up mat in her backyard and ran several miles a day to stay in shape. Whenever the time to try out arrived, she would be ready.
“I am a self-motivated athlete who has always worked hard in my sport to strive for perfection,” she said. “I was committed to going to the University of Kentucky. I was a little nervous with the announcement of new coaches but I was confident that my skill set would be impressive enough to make the UK cheer team. After speaking to coach Ryan, she was extremely welcoming and made me feel comfortable and that this was the right decision to wait it out for the team to be announced.”
When the time came, Landow put together a tryout video in a New Jersey gym that included a list of required skill sets set forth by O’Connor. She then flew to Kentucky for an in-person tryout to have more skills filmed with Wildcat returnees.
Shortly thereafter, her world changed from green grass to blue grass. Landow became the second RHS cheerleader to make an SEC team in seven years, as Morgan Owens was on the Alabama team in the mid-2010s.
The entire saga left Kenney shaking her head in admiration, though it did not surprise her.
“She knew that’s where she wanted to go, so she just focused and stayed committed,” the seventh-year Raven coach said. “Even as an adult I struggled through the whole quarantine. She just kept her eyes on the prize and kept herself going. Everything worked out as she was hoping it would. So much of that was her dedication and commitment to staying focused, and not letting anything get her down.”
Kenney knows Landow’s skills and personality as well as anyone, having coached her on the Hamilton Starz as a youth. By then, jumps, flying and tumbles were already in her blood.
“I was 8 when I started cheerleading,” she said. “I would spend hours watching UK on YouTube as well as ESPN. I was always known as a gym rat, I never wanted to leave practice, tumbling classes, or privates (private lessons).”
Even at that early age, Landow showed the potential to be special.
“She was in the gym all of the time,” Kenney said. “She would do privates with me, she would go to extra open tumbling and do extra tumbling privates because she loved being there. She had remarkable talent even as a young athlete. She showed promise early on, which doesn’t always turn into amazing talent for every kid but because she was so focused and committed she exploded with talent.”
When the Starz folded, Landow joined the highly successful World Cup All Stars in Freehold. With Carly helping lead the way, World Cup won the 2019 World Championship for the Large All-Girl Division. Their chance to repeat this year was thwarted by Covid 19.
“I wanted to continue with the best, and I wanted to be the best coming from the best program,” she said. “I was a flyer and crossed over on two teams that were both co-ed. I was on Starlites for two years, Odyssey for two years and Shooting Stars for three years.
“I was fortunate enough to win every competition I have ever attended throughout my All Star career including the World Championship. Now I am very prepared to be a UK cheerleader and want to win college nationals with this program.”
What makes Landow truly impressive is her selflessness. A program like World Cup is intense and takes up countless hours. Like gymnastics, many competitors in club cheerleading forego high school because it is too overwhelming.
Kenney pointed out that is where Landow is different. Her love of cheerleading and her high school was so great, she embraced both club and her Ravens team.
“When I say she is a coach’s dream, I’m not exaggerating,” Kenney said. “She was one of those phenomenal kids who was able to balance the responsibilities of being on two pretty demanding teams. Cheer is a year round commitment, they practice multiple times a week. She would leave Robbinsville practice at 5 and drive straight to Freehold for her All Starz practice. That would go until 9:30 at night and she had get home to do her homework and everything else.
“That dedication and her ability is second to none. Some other athletes in different sports might not care that much but she loves every aspect. World Cup is purely competition cheer. But she loved being in front of the crowd and being at the football games and being with her classmates at school and being on the team with them. She was willing to do these crazy schedules to make it work.”
The coach recalled her junior year, when Landow had a major competition with her World Cup team. After performing all day, she made the hour drive to West Windsor-Plainsboro North to compete with Robbinsville in the Colonial Valley Conference championships that night. She also spent generous amounts of time with younger cheerleaders to teach them various aspects of the sport.
Kenney praises Landow, but the coach gets some credit for her enthusiasm.
“I loved being coached by Lauren Kenney,” said Landow, who also praised and thanked her mother, father, siblings and every coach she ever had for her success. “I was so excited to cheer for her at Robbinsville. I loved getting to compete in the All Star cheer world and was thrilled to learn sideline cheers (for RHS) while getting to still compete at All Star.
“One thing I loved the most about high school cheer was getting to tumble on Friday nights. Whenever I would throw my pass the crowd would be jumping up and down and screaming for me. I also loved competing at CVCs, where we won grand champs my freshman year and first place (in the division) my freshman through junior years. My favorite part of CVCs was getting to throw my elite tumbling passes and doing what I love in front of other people from different schools.”
She will be doing that in front of a lot bigger crowds this fall, provided there is football played in the SEC. As with everything else, nothing is guaranteed when it comes to scheduling events.
“I’m still staying optimistic and we are practicing following the University of Kentucky’s guidelines due to the pandemic,” she said.
And if circumstances dictate the start of her career may take a little longer to get underway, she is patient enough to deal.
Afterall, she has already waited 10 years for the moment to arrive.