ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Rocky Point left the state cheer tournament two years ago to a standing ovation. The Eagles had been eliminated from the tournament after the first round and as they left the arena, the crowd acknowledged the effort.
“We were crushed,” Rocky Point coach Anna Spallina said. “We had a near perfect routine and the judges ousted us. The scoring was different and didn’t put enough emphasis on difficulty.”
Saturday was a different story.
With a new scoring system developed and in place to address the differences of style, dance and tumbling difficulty, the Eagles soared.
Rocky Point earned the highest score of the tournament and cruised to the Small Schools Division I title Saturday in front of nearly 3,500 boisterous fans in the NYSPHSAA state championship at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“The girls put it all out there,” said Rocky Point coach Anna Spallina. “We can only ask them to do what they can do. Then it’s up to the judges. And we were brilliant.”
Suffolk teams which boycotted the state tournament last year captured three of the five state classifications. Mount Sinai and Sachem North also earned state crowns.
“All Suffolk teams boycotted the state tournament in 2018,” Spallina said. “We were unhappy with the scoring system and the Rubric used for judging the event. The state made the changes to the scoring and addressed all of our concerns.”
Senior Samantha Ferrara, Newsday’s cheerleader of the year in 2018, hugged it out with senior and best friend Gina Tolisano. The two had much to celebrate. A state title and Tolisano’s 18th birthday.
“The two of them are the key to our team,” Rocky Point assistant coach Arianna Scanlon said. “They coordinate things out there, communicating with the younger members of the team, and lead by example. We’re effortless in our routine and we spread our 16 girls out over the nine mats. The routine looked so clean.”
Spallina said the extreme conditioning was a big factor in a season that saw the Eagles sweep every event. She pointed to seniors Kim Casey, Hayley Nofi and Julia Buckley as key contributors.
And Scott Reh, the director of athletics at Mount Sinai and the Suffolk chairperson for cheerleading, was ecstatic over Suffolk’s three state crowns.
“We took a stand against the way the event was being scored,” Reh said. “We felt it was an unlevel playing field for our teams. We have some of the best talent in the state and we weren’t being judged fairly. And as a section we opted out of the state tournament until changes were made. We sat down and developed a score sheet that was conducive to both styles of dance and cheer. There was more emphasis placed on difficulty and athletic skill.”
WANTAGH TAKES THIRD
Wantagh was fifth after the first round of the Small Schools Division II state tournament. The Warriors had a neat finals routine but came up short of the state title finishing in third place.
“We’re a young team and it was a little nerve wracking kicking off the finals as the first team to come out and perform,” said Wantagh coach Jaclyn Bonlarron. “Once we got through our first stunt and hit it pretty well our girls all relaxed and came together for a wonderful performance. The routine just fell into place.”
Wantagh, the Nassau Small Schools Division II champion, finished second at the state tournament in 2018 and really set the bar in the final round.
“Our final pyramid is usually a little hit and miss but they completely nailed it this year,” Bonlarron said. “They hit it perfectly. I’m so proud of this team because they exceeded everyone’s expectations and continued to grow individually and as a team this season.”
The two Wantagh seniors, Lauren Manzo and Chloe Janosko and juniors Juliana Cupelli, Nicole Lipski and Ally Avena were smooth in all aspects of the routine. The solid communication on the mat contributed to the higher score.