It felt like a party, a big old party. A disc jockey played music. People danced in the stands, there were plenty of smiles to go around and the atmosphere was festive.
Smiles could even be seen on the faces of the cheerleaders competing on the mat. Behind those smiles, undoubtedly, was the stress felt by the pressure to perform. All their hard work and preparation came down to a 2-minute, 30-second routine before a panel of four scoresheet judges and one safety judge, who evaluated the cheerleading teams for jumping, motions, dancing and stunting.
“I love the rush I get,” Southold’s sophomore co-captain, Rosie Mollica, said. “You work so hard every day after practice, and then it all comes down to just two minutes and 30 seconds.”
Southold, one of the smallest competitive cheerleading teams in Suffolk County, competed along with Bishop McGann-Mercy and others in the New York State Invitational at Smithtown East High School on Saturday.
Mercy led off the small varsity Division 2 session and was followed two slots later by Southold. From that point on it was a waiting game for those teams as matters were in the hands of the judges, who analyzed and compared notes on the performances of 10 teams in the division (Shoreham-Wading River had been entered, but dropped out).
When the scores were announced, Plainedge was declared the winner with 164.1 points, ahead of second-place Clarke (158.65). Southold (112.9) finished eighth and Mercy (108.9) was ninth. The teams were scored on a range from 0 to 236.
Southold has 11 cheerleaders on its squad, but only seven on the competition team: junior co-captain Victoria Tondo, juniors Annette Newman and Katie Bauman, sophomore Sabrina Basel, freshmen Amanda Bardsley and Kate Jones as well as Mollica. They call themselves “The Lucky Seven.”
Southold is fortunate to have four tumblers in Bardsley, Jones, Mollica and Tondo. Because more than half of the team can tumble, it helps the team rack up points.
The First Settlers were thrilled with their performance Saturday, their first competition of the season. They started out with partner stunts before transitioning into a cheer and wrapping up with a dance, followed by a pyramid.
“I think they did great,” said Kathy Williams, who will retire after this, her third year as the team’s coach. “They hit every single thing they were supposed to hit and they were synchronized and they worked hard and I think they really came through today.”
She added, “It’s only two minutes and 30 seconds, but it’s the hardest two minutes and 30 seconds any group of seven girls ever worked.”
Tondo said: “I thought it was amazing. I’m so proud of everyone, how we hit it.”
Asked what it was like to be on the mat in front of the crowd, Mollica said: “It’s like you’re in a cheer bubble and you don’t know what’s going on around you, but it’s like you’re sprinting and screaming at the same time, so you get very out of breath and tired and you have to push through.”
This is the third year in which Southold has cheered competitively. It is cheerleading’s second season as an officially recognized sport by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.
“Everyone in cheer world is very happy that these girls are stepping up and making a change and not just being sideline cheerleaders,” said Williams.
This was the third competition of the season for Mercy, captained by seniors Faye Bujnicki and Kelli Cichanowicz. Mercy coach Jessica Donnelly said it was probably the team’s second-best showing.
Said Bujnicki, “I think it was a little bit more intense because we did step up our game this competition and increased our [level of] difficulty.”
Photo caption: Bishop McGann-Mercy’s cheerleaders competing in the New York State Invitational at Smithtown East High School on Saturday. (Credit: Bob Liepa)