The Riverhead cheerleading team set a lofty goal heading into its first competition of the competitive cheer season Sunday: Finish in the top three at the Universal Cheerleaders Association Pocono Regional in Kutztown, Penn.
As the Blue Waves put the finishing touches on their 2 minute, 30 second routine, it was evident they had done everything possible to make that happen.
“They hit a perfect, solid routine,” said Riverhead cheerleading coach Stephanie Piraino.
The Blue Waves not only finished in the top three, but won the small varsity division by a wide margin with 85.25 points. The second-place team, Ridge High School, tallied 78.90.
It was the first time Riverhead won a UCA competition, Piraino said. And the Blue Waves punched their ticket to the UCA Nationals for the ninth consecutive year, Piraino said. The Nationals are held in early February in Orlando, Fla.
“We didn’t know we would come in first but we told the kids right away, this was your very best for today,” Piraino said. “That’s all we can ask for. As far as we’re concerned, you hit your goal today no matter what the outcome will be.”
There were 25 teams competing in the small varsity division. Shoreham-Wading River tallied 65.25 points to make history by securing the program’s first trip to Nationals. The Wildcats were the final team to earn a bid in the division.
The Blue Waves are coming off one of their best seasons a year ago. At Nationals last year the team advanced into the semifinals for the first time.
Piraino said she wasn’t sure what to expect at the beginning of this year. The team lost nine seniors from last year’s team, giving the illusion of a rebuilding year. Three eighth-graders joined the varsity team this year.
“The kids have just exceeded our expectations since preseason,” she said. “It’s incredible. Overall, the mix of the kids has just worked and worked. I think that their heart it was brought them to where they needed to be. I’ve never seen kids love what they do so much.”
The Pocono Regional marked the first chance for the Blue Waves to unveil the routine that they began preparing as far back as June. Preseason workouts led into the start of the fall season in August, where the current group began putting all the pieces together.
As the next UCA competition, the team will begin to upgrade parts of the routine to add more difficulty. This weekend the team will compete at the UCA Empire Regional at Hofstra University.
The team will then prepare for the Section XI competitions, which were created after cheerleading was approved last year as an official sport.
Piraino said the team is looking forward to competing in a set schedule.
“I think it’ll be nice to be able to compete on the Island again,” she said.
Photo Caption: The Riverhead cheerleading team poses after winning the small varsity division Sunday at the UCA Pocono Regional. (Credit: courtesy photo)