On the verge of a trip to the national championships in Orlando, Florida, the Ward Melville cheerleading squad wasn’t about to rest on its laurels.

An opportunity to compete suddenly presented itself, and the squad decided to make the most of it.

After registering for Sunday’s large varsity Division I competition at Connetquot just five days earlier, the Patriots appeared anything but unprepared, as they placed first among six teams.

Because of the unusual circumstances, Ward Melville’s entrance into the event was announced to spectators only moments before the competition began.

“I’m an extremely proud coach,” said Ward Melville coach Christine Peretta, who could not be in attendance because of the recent birth of her child. “These girls deserved this.”

Ward Melville junior varsity coach Briana Ponzini and junior high coach Georgia Gass have worked with the varsity team during Peretta’s absence. Peretta used FaceTime to oversee practices and watch Sunday’s victory.

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Rachel Keane recalled the moment Peretta broached the idea of competing in Connetquot.

“She called us while we were at practice on Wednesday,” said Keane. “She said, ‘As long as it’s OK with you girls, I want to push you into the competition this Sunday.’ It was unanimous for us.”

Ward Melville incorporated an additional double-jump into its routine after officially entering the competition in hopes of increasing the level of difficulty and earning more points.

And at the end of the day, they had earned the most points.

“I’m super pumped,” Maggie Hurley said. “We weren’t going to come and I’m so glad we did.”

Despite scrambling to prepare for the event, Samantha Curatolo said the squad talked about taking advantage of another opportunity to compete and improve before nationals on Saturday.

“We were a little skeptical going into it. But once we got here we said, ‘We’re here, it’s our last shot before nationals, so let’s make the best of it.’”

With a routine filled with tumbling and precise choreography, Peretta is confident her team can knock off other top-notch talent in Orlando.