The Rocky Point High School varsity cheerleading team takes its training seriously: three hours a day, six days a week, plus gymnastics, dance sessions and weightlifting.
"I basically have to kick them out of the gym. All they want to do is train," said their coach, Anna Spallina.
The team knew it was talented. Still, it came as a shock when they traveled to Florida last weekend for the national high school cheerleading championships and took first place.
It is the first time a Long Island team has won the championship, Spallina said. They defeated 32 top teams from around the country who had already won regional competitions in the "varsity medium" category - 16 cheerleaders on the mat.
"To be honest, I didn't think that we'd be able to get first place," said Heidi Lebens, 16, a junior. "It's such a big thing, and Rocky Point is such a little town."
"I'm just really shocked," said Angela Henriksen, 16, also a junior. "I feel like I am dreaming. It still hasn't hit me that we won the nationals."
The squad returned from Florida Tuesday night, and Wednesday the school welcomed the champions back. Balloons and congratulatory signs festooned the building.
"It was like unreal," Amanda Lang, 17, a junior co-captain of the team, said of the triumph. It was "the best feeling in the world."
Spallina said that as soon as the team performed their routine in the final round, she knew they had won.
"They nailed it," she said. "They were flawless."
Spallina said cheerleading is a major activity in Rocky Point, producing numerous candidates for the squad.
"Cheerleading in Rocky Point is huge," she said.
The girls train year-round, and during the summer show up at the school track three times a week for conditioning that includes running with parachutes attached to their backs to create resistance.
Spallina said that going into the championship in Florida, the team hoped to land among the top three spots after finishing eighth last year and ninth the year before that.
"It's just the most exciting thing we've ever accomplished," she said. "Having that title is very cool."
With Gary Dymski
The National Cheerleading Championships were held Saturday and Sunday in Orlando, Fla.
More than 430 high schools competed in the daylong competition.
Rocky Point High School's cheerleading squad, with 16 members, placed first in the Medium Varsity Division II class against 11 other high schools in the final round.
Bishop McCort Catholic High School of Johnstown, Pa., finished second in Rocky Point's division.