MacArthur cheerleaders Jovanna DiChiara (left), Madison Drauch (left center), Stephanie...

MacArthur cheerleaders Jovanna DiChiara (left), Madison Drauch (left center), Stephanie Caldron (right center), and Cami Sandkhul react in shock after finding out they won first place in the Division 1 large category of the New York State cheerleading championships in Rochester on March 5. Credit: Lauren Petracca

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Tears of joy flowed profusely as the crowning moment was joined by a sense of shock.

When the MacArthur girls cheerleading team stepped off the Rochester Institute of Technology mat and awaited for their name to be called at the state championships on Saturday afternoon, expectations were quite dubious after some unforeseen struggles in the finals.

But the plaque they raised in sweet victory minutes later, proclaiming MacArthur as Division I Large School champions, confirmed otherwise.

"Honestly, I’m just in shock," Emma Koehler said. "We had a few mistakes and I thought we would finish fourth or top three if we were lucky. To win this means so much to us."

MacArthur placed first with 87.55 points, ahead of Section V's Hilton (85.90). Sachem East finished fifth with 84.50.

Kylie Zanelli was one of many members who was overcome by emotion after learning that MacArthur was victorious despite their bleak initial outlook.

"I just immediately cried," Zanelli said. "I was just so happy. It was the best feeling that I ever could have imagined."

The victory was also MacArthur’s first state title in program history, according to coach Lisa Nessler.

"We worked so hard for this moment," Nessler said. "Our goal was to just hit. We didn’t want to go in ahead of ourselves. We wanted to just hit. I’ve never experienced anything like this. This is the greatest feeling in the world."

Nessler believes the team’s ability to not overlook the smaller details ultimately defined them as champions.

"We knew after the first round that we did well," Nessler said. "We were hopeful to go through … And when we competed in the finals we knew that we had an imperfect routine.

"And when that happens you typically don’t come out first. So I was just hoping that all those little details that we pushed all year would make a big difference, and they did."

Zanelli recalled a recent disappointment back in mid-February that progressively shifted into a turning point for MacArthur in its quest for the state title. Competing in the National High School Cheerleading Championship at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, MacArthur failed to advance past the first round.

"We didn’t put our best foot forward at all at nationals," Zanelli said. "We worked so hard and to be able to show everyone how good we actually are means the world to us. We took this as a moment of redemption and that’s what we did today."

Nessler said her team’s response to the adversity encountered at Disney spoke volumes about their identity.

"We could’ve fallen apart after that," Nessler said. "I’ve seen it go either way and I’m really proud of how we stood resilient. After that we did more mental building, as opposed to physical and just built as a team."

Once the tears of joy finished flowing and the moment set in, Olivia Weber agreed.

"I think this really showed our character," Weber said. "We are a great team as a whole. We work so hard and it just means the world that it paid off."

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