Moments before running out of the tunnel, Hauppauge senior co-captain Emily Clackett and her teammates told each other to have fun on the mat.
Little did they know that minutes later, far from home, they would have the time of their lives as they took second place (91.9) at the UCA National Cheerleading championships in Small Varsity Division II out of more than 50 teams on Feb. 11.
“Once we ran through the tunnel, everyone throughout the arena was cheering for us and it was an exhilarating feeling,” Clackett said.
During the finals, spectators throughout HP Field House at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando cheered “E-A-G-L-E-S.”
“After hitting our first elite stunt — our back handspring up stunt, I knew we were going to hit our routine,” Clackett said. “It was the best feeling in the world knowing that we hit our best routine we have ever done and everyone in the whole stadium was yelling our cheer.”
Hauppauge finished only behind Kentucky’s Pikeville, which placed first (94.9) for the third consecutive year. The Eagles earned the second-highest score out of more than 115 teams combined in Divisions I and II.
“It was the performance of a lifetime,” Hauppauge coach Laura Alonzo said. “I had coaches telling me that it was one of the best routines a Long Island team has performed in the 10 years they have been going down to nationals.”
This was a different outcome compared to last year’s nationals, where the Eagles placed third, despite dropping two stunts with one of the most difficult routines. Alonzo said this time was just about hitting.
“Yes, it’s great to win and that’s we wanted to do,” she said. “I told the kids to remember that feeling when you hit. Is it about the first place trophy and the white jackets that you get? A little bit. You’re going down there because you want to win, but the key goal this year was to hit.”
Alonzo credited the team’s performance in regionals, the competition which led Hauppauge to nationals, as the turning point of the season. After winning with a marked stunt group, the Eagles faltered but worked on hitting the routine throughout January.
In Orlando, Hauppauge made minor adjustments after hearing judges critiques in the preliminary and the semifinal rounds, which made a big difference. Advice included watching bent wrists, squeezing legs in tumbling and noting flexibility in heel stretches.
“It felt like all of our hard work and dedication has paid off,” senior co-captain Francesca Capilets said. “The excitement at the end of the routine was unexplainable. Watching our routine after on the television we all were crying of happiness, and it felt like we were on the top of the world.”
Clackett said it is sad that her high school cheerleading career is over, but will never forget the team’s performance in Orlando.
“Reflecting back on my senior year, I would not have changed anything,” she said. “I’m so happy that I was able to be a part of the Hauppauge cheer program and I can’t wait to come back next year and hopefully watch the team do amazing things at nationals once again.”