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Former GU cheerleaders hope to relive memories

Should Gonzaga make it to the Final Four this weekend, Jobin and Jenni Panicker will be there too.

The couple vowed to make the 900-mile trip from Dallas with three young children in the back of their minivan. Survive and advance, as they say.

But this will be a joyride, because Jobin and Jenni, graduates in 2005, might just be Gonzaga’s biggest cheerleaders.

In fact, they were cheerleaders back in the day, coming of age as Gonzaga basketball was doing the same.

Pompoms in hand, they helped usher out the old Kennel and bring in the new.

They were courtside in Salt Lake City in 2003 when the Zags lost a double-overtime heartbreaker to Arizona, and they didn’t miss the Final Four in Phoenix in 2017.

In turn, Gonzaga was there for the Panickers’ shining moments: falling in love as undergrads, their wedding at St. Al’s and the birth of their first child.

By Feb. 7, 2013, Jenni was already past due.

“But the Zags were good that year, and I didn’t want to miss a game” said Jenni, an attorney. So she made a counteroffer: induce labor on a Thursday morning.

That night, Jonah, three hours old, watched the Zags swat Pepperdine, 82-56.

Three years later, Jenni gave birth to their second child, Solomon Aloysius. Later they adopted a daughter, Aya, and returned in December 2019 to catch a game.

Their Gonzaga journey began almost by chance. Jobin, who grew up in Los Angeles, heard about the school through a colleague of his father’s.

The daughter of a high school principal, Jenni moved to Pullman midway through high school from the Washington coast.

Searching for a school that emphasized social justice, she also wanted to be a lawyer. In the short term, “I knew that I wanted to cheer in college,” Jenni said.

They met as freshmen in the fall of 2001 and began dating.

Gone were Jobin’s plans of going back to L.A.

Jenni made the cheer squad during tryouts the following spring, but Jobin wasn’t interested.

However, that fall, one of the male cheerleaders broke his arm.

“I begged Jobin to just try out. He did, he was a natural,” Jenni said.

“Our relationship really developed that year because we were together almost all the time with late night practices and team travel.”

They also were together on the court in 2003, when a missed shot against Arizona sank Gonzaga’s bid to play in the Elite Eight.

A Sports Illustrated photo shows Jobin and Jenni – “Horrified,” she recalled – as the shot rimmed out.

By spring of the next year, both had lost out on the on-campus housing lottery, so each found apartments downtown above the Onion restaurant and biked to campus.

Between tight budgets and the crush of upper-division classes, “we couldn’t fit the cheer squad in our schedule any longer.”

However, in another shining moment, they were invited to cheer for the opening of the McCarthey Athletic Center in the fall of 2004.

By senior year, the relationship was serious. But so were their studies.

In 2005, Jenni graduated with a degree in business administration with a concentration in law and public policy and a minor in Spanish. Jobin graduated with degrees in business administration and broadcast journalism.

“We decided to apply for grad schools separately, without telling one another where we were applying. We figured if it was meant to be, we’d find each other,” Jenni said.

To their mutual surprise, both were accepted with scholarships to Syracuse. After Jenni finished law school, they were married at St. Al’s, moved to Fresno and caught every WCC tournament they could manage.

Now in Dallas, Jenni is an attorney and Jobin a television reporter with ABC.

“If we could live in Spokane, we would,” Jobin said.

Finally in December 2019, they brought the kids – including Aya, whom they adopted the year before – to the Kennel.

“But it was a joy to show our kids our history, and their future,” Jenni said.

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