The Centereach cheerleading squad exceeded their own expectations at the UCA National Cheerleading championships on Feb. 11.
They had two goals: stick their routine and advance to the semifinals.
Instead of advancing, as they had hoped, the Cougars’ perfect routine sent them directly from the preliminaries to the finals, where they finished second to Pennsylvania’s Bishop McCort with a score of 87.40 in Large Varsity Division II.
This is the first time in program history the Cougars placed at Nationals. For the past two years, the team traveled to Orlando, Florida to compete at HP Field House in the ESPN World Wide Sports Complex, but never made it out of the preliminary round.
Centereach, along with Bishop McCort were the only teams in their division to advance straight to the finals.
“When the judges announced we were going straight to the finals, it was unreal,” sophomore Aida Garcia-Miller said. “The way the season went for us, no one expected us to place at Nationals.”
The Cougars’ season was plagued with injuries and illness. Throughout Suffolk competition, Centereach never competed as a full team. But fourth-year coach and cheerleading alumnus Stephani Catalano encouraged throughout.
“One-hundred-fifty seconds was our motto because you only have two minutes and 30 seconds to prove yourself,” Catalano said. “Some days were rough and we wouldn’t be human without rough days. As a coach you see the potential and the kids are blind to it. It’s your job to draw it out of them. Our skill level is at its highest and our tumbling is elite. I’m really proud of these girls.”
In the prelims and in the finals, Centereach performed perfect routines and received zero deductions, meaning no stunt bobbles, falls or stepping out of bounds to name a few.
Their main stunt is the most difficult one and includes five flyers performing double up heel stretches and an arabesque with a 1 1⁄4 twist down.
The girls knew if they stuck the stunt, the judges would be in their favor.
“We sat in a semicircle holding hands and as they kept calling out names our grips got tighter,” senior Nicole Sullivan said. “They started naming the established programs and we knew our name was still coming up. When they called us, it was incredible to know we were second in the nation.”
Sullivan, Garcia-Miller and Catalano agree this was a great way to end the season. Thanks to the injuries, Centereach did not qualify for the Suffolk championships. But the squad is looking forward to next year.
“A Nationals win definitely outweighs counties,” Sullivan said. “Of course it would’ve been nice but we had so many ups and downs this season. And of course that isn’t an excuse. But a goal we had was to go to Nationals and do well and we achieved that. We overcame a lot and we became a strong team and I wouldn’t change anything that happened this season.”