Grace Calabria of Sachem North cheerleading

Grace Calabria of Sachem North cheerleading Credit: Danielle Gresalfi

Long Island Cheerleader of the Year: Grace Calabria, Sachem North, Side base, Sr.

Grace Calabria was more than a fantastic cheerleader for Sachem North. She was outspoken against COVID-19 health restrictions that were in place for the state tournament. Initially, the venue at RIT, which hosted the state meet, would not allow spectators or unvaccinated cheerleaders to participate. Calabria helped coordinate a petition with more than 25,000 signatures to change that. Sachem North had six unvaccinated cheerleaders at the time. "If we win the county title, we’ll go to the state tournament as a team, or we won’t go at all," Calabria said at a news conference. She was resolute in her belief that if the restrictions didn't change and Sachem North won the Suffolk title, the team would not participate at the state level. The state rescinded its mandate a few days prior to competition, and Sachem North won the state championship.

It was those leadership qualities and the connectivity that she had with her teammates that helped Sachem North bond and earn that title. The five-year varsity member was also a 2021 Newsday All-Long Island first-team selection. Calabria has been a major asset to the program as a flyer and side base. She is a three-time Suffolk and two-time state champion. She performed some of the most elite tumbling skills and was also a side base, doing the most elite level stunts, including back handspring ups, high-to-high full arounds and low-to-high 540s. She volunteers helping with Sachem’s youth cheerleading program, for ages 5-12 and the middle school teams. She will continue her cheer career and will enroll in the nursing program at Sacred Heart University.

Nassau Cheerleader of the Year: Megan Gilbert, Seaford, Flyer, Sr.

Megan Gilbert for the All LI cheer team for the...

Megan Gilbert for the All LI cheer team for the All LI cheer team Credit: Lisa Ferrari

Gilbert is regarded by many as the best flyer in all of Nassau County. She is a five-year member of the varsity and led Seaford to the school’s first state championship this season. The Vikings have also won five Nassau crowns. Gibert was able to hit super elite stunts with hand-to-hand quarter turns, one to one stretches and full arounds, and her tumbling passes were unmatched.

The two-time Newsday All-Long Island first team selection was one of the most technical flyers to come out of Seaford. She was a role model and set the bar for her younger teammates.

Victoria Cannata, Plainedge, Main base, Sr.

The captain has been on varsity since ninth grade and has been Plainedge's strongest main base all four years. She is a fantastic athlete and can perform 360 and 540 switch ups, round-off up inversions, back handspring up inversions, and both low-to-high and high-to-high full arounds. In addition to being an extremely skilled main base, competing all super elite skills, with exceptional technique, she is also a very strong tumbler.

Marisa Coniglione, Rocky Point, Side base/tumbler, Sr.

A five-year varsity team member who has performed exceptionally well at all positions.

The two-year captain is the epitome of an all-around cheerleader. She can perform as a main base, side base, flyer and tumbler and was part of the 2019 state championship team. She helps run the Kiddie Cheer Clinics throughout the year, in which she mentors young future cheerleaders, ages 5-12.

From left: Victoria Cannata of Plainedge, Marisa Conglione of Rocky Point, Ava Lombardo of Wantagh, Stella Manikas of Hauppauge, Tori Napolitano of Mount Sinai and Sofia Rella of Division.

Ava Lombardo, Wantagh, Main base, Jr.

The captain led an inexperienced varsity squad to the finals at the national competition and to a Nassau title. She has been consistent in all her routines for three years and is one of Wantagh’s strongest tumblers. She was elevated to the varsity as a freshman to compete after an injury opened a spot and never disappointed.

Stella Manikas, Hauppauge, Main base, Jr.

She is a four-year varsity member, who is now a captain, and relied upon to teach the younger athletes the correct techniques and routines. She competed and hit all the newest and most difficult stunts such as hand to hands to the top, back handspring ups to one leg to the top and switch up full ups. Manikas is also a two-time Suffolk champion and part of the Eagles' 2020 state championship team.

Tori Napolitano, Mt. Sinai, Flyer, Sr.

She is the eye-catching flyer for the Mustangs for the last five years. She can handle the hardest skills allowed in high school cheerleading and performs elite tumbling passes easily. Napolitano is flawless in the air and unstoppable on the mat as she was a key to the Mustangs' state championship run. Over the years she has performed a round off full through to full, hand-to-hand full, and a cartwheel full.

Sofia Rella, Division, Main base, Jr.

Rella is one of the truly fun cheerleaders to watch on Long Island. She hits the crowd hard, whether it’s dance or cheer, with her expressions and enthusiasm and is a standout performer. The captain is a fourth-year varsity starter and a natural leader. Her stunting and athletic ability includes a standing tuck, round off handspring tuck, inversions and 540s.

Kayla Unterweiser, Connetquot, Flyer, Jr.

Unterweiser is a five-year member of varsity and played a critical role as an underclassman in the team’s success as a flyer/coed flyer winning the UCA Regional Champions in three of the past four years. She performs elite stunts with ease and competes a standing full and a roundoff handspring full all within seconds in their competition routine. She was chosen as an All-Long Island second-teamer in 2021.

Kylie Zanelli of MacArthur, Kayla Unterweiser of Connetquot and coach Lauren Berry of Southold.

Kylie Zanelli, MacArthur, Main base, Sr. 

She is a two-time first team Newsday All-Long Island selection. She earned the Keane Award presented by the coaches to Nassau’s top cheerleader. Zanelli is a five-year starter and the Generals' strongest main base. She is an elite tumbler and capable of making stunts in the super elite category like hand-in-hand inversions, high-to-high full arounds, single based 540s, elite twisting skills and inversion to all body positions.

Coach of the Year: Lauren Berry, Southold

She has turned the Southold program into a winner. Berry brings an energetic coaching style with positive impact that has reaped success at the varsity level for the small school.

All-Long Island Second Team

Ava Albanese, Seaford, Main Base, Sr.

Caroline Arent, Massapequa, Back Spot, Sr.

Kelly Arent, Massapequa, Back Spot, Sr.

Alyssa Barbaro, West Babylon, Flyer, Sr.

Emily Bott, East Islip, Flyer, Jr.

Aliza Campanile, Smithtown East, Flyer, Sr.

Katelyn Dawson, Shoreham-Wading River, Flyer, Jr.

Alyssa-Kate DiGiantomasso, Sachem North, Flyer, Sr.

Makhenzie Jinks, Freeport, Main Base, Sr.

Danielle Kennedy, Division, Flyer, Jr.

Emma Koehler, MacArthur, Flyer, Sr.

Alysia LoVerde, Seaford, Back Spot, Sr.

Amanda Martinez, Freeport, Back Spot, Jr.

Carly McEntee, Whitman, Side Base/Center Tumbler, Sr.

Dylan Neuendorf, Island Trees, Back Spot, Sr.

Sara Reise, Plainedge, Flyer, Jr.

Brianna Rhode, Mount Sinai, Tumbler, Sr.

Diana Rodriguez, East Meadow, Tumbling, Jr.

Sophia Tsakos, Wantagh, Side Base, Sr.

Jillian Trentowski, Shoreham-Wading River, Flyer, Jr.

Newsday LogoYour Island. Your Community. Your News.Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months