SYRACUSE — Five days before taking the mat at the second annual NYSPHSAA cheerleading championships, Wantagh did something drastic.
The Warriors generally tailor their routines to Universal Cheerleading Association standards. That’s the competition style at nationals, where they took sixth place on Feb. 12.
But the state has different scoresheet requirements, so the Warriors altered their routine. To improve their chances, they sacrificed familiarity.
“The first practice we changed it, oh, god, it was a mess,” senior Sabrina Hill said.
But as they practiced and practiced, their confidence level in a routine that added six jumps, among other changes, continued to rise. It all culminated with a runner-up finish among Division I Small schools Saturday at Onondaga Community College.
“To be able to change it so fast and hit it on basically our second try performing it, it was just amazing that we can adjust that fast,” said senior Bridget Connolly, who added they first performed the routine during the preliminary round.
Wantagh was Long Island’s highest finisher at the championships. West Babylon took third in Division I Large. Plainedge placed fifth in Division II Small, and Seaford and 2016 coed champion Mount Sinai finished fourth and fifth in Division II Large, respectively.
Calhoun (coed), East Meadow (Division I Large), Rocky Point (Division I Small) and Babylon (Division II Small) did not make it out of preliminaries, but Long Island sent at least five teams through for the second straight year. Six schools competed in the 2016 finals.
“To have five, six teams, we’re still representing a good part of Long Island,” Plainedge coach Marie Esposito said. “I’m proud of both sections from Long Island.”
West Babylon left the mat feeling it could have executed at a higher level, but the third-place finish was still impressive. Just hearing the team had advanced through preliminaries and into the finals was exciting, considering West Babylon did not go upstate at all last year.
“We were all in shock,” junior Britney Jahrmarkt said. “We were like we just did this, now let’s make history.”
For Wantagh, the routine was hardly recognizable from the one that earned the Warriors their second straight county title.
“We just learned this routine Monday,” Katie Droluk said. “It’s really hard to get all these different counts, different stunts. We had a whole new partner stunt, whole new beginning, and it’s very different than what we’re used to because we’re used to going to nationals, which is UCA. This is more NCA [National Cheerleaders Association], so we had to make a lot of big changes.”
Wantagh coach Matt Schneyer implemented the changes to elevate his team under the different criteria. Most of upstate New York, he said, regularly performs with the state championship guidelines in mind, so that left Wantagh and the other Long Island schools at a disadvantage.
“We changed it to these scoresheets and made it harder,” Connolly said, “so that we’d be able to have a better shot at winning this competition rather than a UCA competition.”
And despite a short turnaround from last Sunday’s county final, the Warriors earned a respectable second-place finish.
“It’s a huge accomplishment, especially going from nationals, which is a fully different routine, and then coming here and changing it in four days is unbelievable,” Schneyer said. “I don’t think I’ve ever coached another team that ever could do that.”