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Hofstra cheerleaders win national crown

If you see a Hofstra cheerleader around town or on campus, blurt out the words "Sacramento State."

And then run for cover.

That phrase was the last words Hofstra's cheerleading squad heard as it learned it had won its fourth Small Coed Division I national title Jan. 17 in Orlando Fla. In the middle of the celebration, Hofstra never heard its name called. And it didn't matter.

"We always joke about that," senior captain Lenée Passiglia said. "You never hear first place called, you hear second place and that's it. But even when I think about that moment now it still gives me the chills."

The moment - the Sacramento State moment - marked the culmination of a season with plenty of twists and turns. In cheerleading, twists and turns are welcome, but these were not the kind coach Christine Nowierski choreographs.

Passiglia and fellow senior Brittany Lucchesi, at one point or another, decided that their careers were done. Passiglia planned on taking 18 credits and wasn't sure if she could give the team "110 percent." Lucchesi sent Nowierski an e-mail stating her intentions to quit the team.

"I was in a really unsettling place in my mind," Lucchesi said. Nowierski asked her to hold off the decision. When she learned that Passiglia was rejoining the team, Lucchesi decided she would, too.

But the road to a national title wasn't exactly clear. The Pride placed fourth in 2008. Eleven of the team's 16 athletes were first-year participants.

Based on a tape of a routine it sent to the Universal Cheerleaders Association, the Pride was ranked seventh out of 15 teams in the Small Coed Division I.

"Everyone thought this was supposed to be a rebuilding year," Nowierski said. "For us I think it affected us in a positive way. It really motivated them to reach an elite level. Anything in the top three would have been fantastic for this program."

And it would have been completely unexpected. A key team member announced that she was leaving the team for personal reasons just a week before the Pride was to travel to Florida for the competition. "All I needed my kids to do was to perform it to the best of their ability," Nowierski said.

Lucchesi, during a replay that aired offstage after the finals routine, noticed an out-of-bounds infraction. "We went from feeling amazing to feeling like absolute garbage," she said. And yet, with just three schools to be called during the awards ceremony, " Hofstra University" was still alive.

"The pause that the announcer gives is such a tease; it's like torture," said Nowierski, who calls this national title the most gratifying. "We all just fell to the ground."

With its fourth title in seven years the Pride cheerleading squad showed it's more than just spirit support.

"What we show at nationals is the best of what we can do," Passiglia said. "It's the most difficult skills and the hardest routine. At basketball games, the student body doesn't really get to see what we're capable of. So usually we keep it low key."

So low key, their name doesn't even have to be called for them to be recognized.

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