Who is Centereach cheerleading? That’s a question the Cougars have been answering all season.
At Sunday’s Bethpage Invitational, the answer was the winner, as Centereach defeated eight teams at the Large Varsity Division I meet. The Cougars scored 173.1 out of a possible 216. Ward Melville (168.2) placed second, and Lindenhurst was third with 155.6.
After the third-place team was called first, followed by the runner-up, Amanda Budke was concerned that Centereach hadn’t finished in the top three.
“When second place was called, I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. Mom, I’m so sorry,’ ” Budke said. “Then, I was like, just wait, we still got this.”
By got this, Budke meant surprising everyone with the win, including themselves.
Centereach hasn’t been known for its cheerleading prowess. The last time the Cougars pounced on the finals mat was nine years ago, according to coach Stephani Catalano. Competition at this event wasn’t light, either. Last season, Ward Melville, West Babylon and Seaford all made it to the National High School Cheerleading Championship in Orlando, Florida.
“This is a really big win for us,’’ Lynda D’Alessandra said. “To beat teams who are known as being very good is overwhelming.”
Nicole Sullivan felt the same. “For us to see where we fit in with everyone and to know that we are able to be up on that level is really big for us,” Sullivan said. “To compete with such really good teams and to know that we are on our way to playoffs and maybe even states is amazing.”
The Cougars’ routine was fierce and flamboyant. Two stunts fell, but the stunts had a high level of difficulty, and Centereach stuck its final pyramid.
Centereach is ranked fourth in the division, according to Catalano, who had a teary moment after her team was announced the winner.
“I’m always a ball of emotions, but when you see your kids hit something that you yelled at them in practice about, there’s such a sense of pride,” Catalano said. “I was in this program 10 years ago, and to now run the program and see the pure talent that comes out of it is really incredible.”
Seniors Budke and Jessica Maina have been on the team since ninth grade and have seen the improvements. “No year has been like this,” Maina said. “We’ve been able to achieve so much.”
“I feel like we’re just going to keep building and Centereach is going to have a very good name in cheerleading,” D’Alessandra said.
Catalano agrees. The program, to her, is steadily rising.
“Building a foundation is the hardest part. They’ve built the foundation from the ground up,” Catalano said. “There’s only one way to go from here.”