The Wantagh cheerleaders would prefer it if you referred to them as a family rather than a team.
“Without having a bond with your teammates, you can only go so far,” senior Emily Drago said. “But once you become a family, you can achieve anything.”
The squad’s infectious energy and near-perfect routine captivated both the crowd and the judges as Wantagh finished first at the Nassau Small Schools Division II cheerleading competition Saturday on its home mat. Clarke was the runner-up.
“All of us truly are like sisters,” Drago added. “I think that’s what makes us different than any other team. I can stunt with any one of these girls and do it with full confidence.”
“I have never been on a team that is this tightly bonded,” senior Jessica Balkunas said. “We not only cheer for the crowd, but we also cheer for each other while we’re on the mat.”
The cheerleaders also cited the home crowd as fuel for their win.
“Until today, I’ve never felt such a high surge of adrenaline when stepping onto the mat,” Drago said. “It was incredible to have alumni and our junior varsity and middle school teams sitting in the front row and supporting us.”
“I definitely think that support really helped the girls today,” head coach Jaclyn Bonlarron said. “They are the masters of creating their own energy, but they can certainly feed off everyone too.”
The winning routine opened with senior Ava Lombardo executing a strong cartwheel full followed by two back handsprings and a full twist. She also stood as the main base for every stunt.
“I’m a big part of the routine which can be stressful, but I’m happy to be,” Lombardo said. “I’m willing to do whatever I can for these girls. We all want each other to be the best.”
Wantagh flaunted three stunt groups that performed identical mounts without marking. Sophomore center flyer Kayla Spisto’s five flawless flipping stunts, mostly seen at the collegiate level, received a roar of applause from the packed bleachers. Bonlarron saw the competition as an opportunity to showcase more complicated moves.
“We don’t come out at our first competition with our most intense routine,” Bonlarron said. “Our approach is to focus on progression. We gradually build on our routines because the sport is so technical.”
“This felt like the season's turning point,” Spisto said. “We came out strong today and I know that it’s only up from here.”
For Lombardo, Balkunas, Drago, and four other seniors, this win was a memorable one.
“This is our last time we will compete on our own mat,” Drago said. “It couldn’t have ended in a better fashion.”
Wantagh is also anticipating defending its county championship title this season. Bonlarron has won five consecutive county championships, one for each year she has been the coach.
“We’re going to keep amping up our routines to prepare for the county championship and hopefully states too,” Bonlarron said.
“There’s a [county] title that we need to defend,” Balkunas said. “Every competition throughout the season is a learning experience so we can get closer to achieving that goal.”
“We came onto the mat at counties last year as a family, and we’ll do the same this year,” Spisto said.