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Lambert alum Spera set to cheer for UGA in national championship — against sister's Crimson Tide
Dani Spera is one of four Forsyth County grads on UGA's sprit squad
Dani Spera
Dani Spera, a Lambert alum and current UGA spirit squad senior, celebrates on the field Dec. 31 after Georgia's 34-11 win against Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Photo submitted

Five years ago, Dani Spera and Sammie Spera helped deliver a state championship to Lambert in competition cheerleading.

Now, for a few brief hours on Monday, the two twin sisters will turn rivals as the University of Georgia squares off against the University of Alabama in the CFP national championship game.

For Dani, it means her final football game as part of Georgia’s spirit squad will come against the school her sister currently attends.

“I didn’t really apply to very many colleges because I knew that’s exactly where I wanted to be,” Dani said. “I also applied to Alabama, but I think if I hadn’t gotten into UGA, I probably wouldn’t have tried out to cheer because I knew I wanted to cheer between the hedges – as cliché as it sounds.”

The two teams’ last meeting in a national championship game came four years ago, when Alabama beat Georgia 26-23.

Dani and Sammie were seniors at Lambert then, and both knew where they would be that fall.

“We had a family rivalry back then, because I got into UGA early, so we both knew exactly where we were going around this time four years ago,” Dani said. “It’ll be intense because she’s going back to school too, and now that we’re both students, this is what we’ve been waiting for. Obviously, [Alabama] won a couple of weeks ago, but hopefully we can pull out this one.”

There are four members of the UGA spirit squad with ties to Forsyth County: Dani Spera, Lambert; Maggie Carpenter, Forsyth Central; Jenna Koenigs, South Forsyth; and Kendall Stephens, South Forsyth.

Spera and Carpenter are both seniors, while Koenigs is a junior and Stephens is a freshman.

“I met Maggie when we got to UGA,” Spera said. “I’d known of her, just because the schools are so close in high school, but I didn’t get to know her until college. As for me, Jenna and Kendall – despite me being older than both of them – we cheered together doing our travel cheerleading team all of our childhood, so I’ve gotten to know them pretty well beforehand.”

It mattered little that Stephens, the 2020 Class 5A-7A GACA Cheerleader of the Year, arrived at Georgia shortly after leading South to a state championship after a narrow, one-point victory over Spera’s alma mater.

Spera admits she doesn’t jab over high school rivalries much anymore. Instead, she’s embraced Forsyth County’s pipeline to the UGA spirit squad.

“Kendall came and stayed with me this summer because she obviously didn’t have anywhere to live during her summer practices,” Spera said. “Just being able to have a friend through me I’m sure was fun, but also I did the same thing with a girl who cheered at South Forsyth who was older than me when I first got to UGA, too. It’s great to have a familiar face and someone you can count on from the beginning, especially at a big school like Georgia that can be kind of intimidating at first.”

Spera’s favorite day of the week in high school was Saturday, which is when she would get to compete with her competition cheer team.

“Friday night lights and high school football games, those are fun and those are great, but my favorite thing about high school was competing on Saturdays, not necessarily cheering football on Friday nights,” Spera said. “They are great memories, but moving to college, at UGA we don’t have a competition cheer team anymore, but it has exceeded every expectation I ever had because the pageantry and the tradition; not even just the attention, but just being able to be there and have school spirit, that was always really important to me.”

Her time at UGA has coincided with one of the program’s most successful runs in school history, with the Bulldogs playing in the Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl and Sugar Bowl – twice – since the 2018 season.

Georgia is 44-8 overall in its past four seasons, including a 22-1 mark at Sanford Stadium in Athens.

“There’s nothing like being there,” Spera said. “Pregame was always my favorite part and now I only have one more at a football game, which is crazy. But I love running the team out and the crowd. COVID kind of made it all different last year, so it made it even more special this year to have a full stadium and a mostly similar experience as my first two seasons.”

Georgia’s only loss this season came last month in the SEC championship game, a 41-24 drubbing courtesy of the Crimson Tide.

Spera’s prediction for Monday?

“I think that when you play a team twice in a year, it’s kind of hard to win twice,” Spera said. “I think from just getting to see the intensity and the determination that our team had in the Orange Bowl, I really hope that we can bring it on Monday. The SEC championship game and closing off the regular season being undefeated, I don’t think that they got comfortable, but I think it was a good wake-up call for them. We’re going to cheer hard and the fans are going to bring it, and the football team is of course going to bring their all, because I know this is what they want really bad. Hopefully Georgia can pull it off.”