All the hard work comes down to 2 minutes and 30 seconds on the mat. The tumbling, the synchronization, the cheers must all come together just right for the cheerleading team to impress the judges.
As the season progresses, and the team builds on its routine, there’s always room for tweaks and improvement.
“In the 2:30 that they have to actually perform the routine, so many different things can happen,” said Riverhead coach Stephanie Piraino.
The Blue Waves have consistently been one of the top programs across Long Island over the past decade and the start to this season may be the best yet, Piraino said.
The Blue Waves not only won their division at the Universal Cheerleaders Association Empire Regional Dec. 2, but they followed up with an even better score a week later at the Pocono Regional in Pennsylvania. The two victories qualified Riverhead for the National High School Cheerleading Championship in Orlando Feb. 10-11.
“This has been like, so far, a dream year,” Piraino said.
The Blue Waves returned the majority of last year’s team and most of the girls have a lot of experience in competitive cheering and working with Piraino and assistant coach Lauren Berry.
This will be the eighth consecutive year the Blue Waves have qualified for the national competition, Piraino said. Last season, the team reached the finals at nationals, progressing one step farther than the year earlier.
At the recent UCA regionals, the team competed in the small division, which requires participation by 12 athletes. Teams in the medium division can have 13 to 16 participants on the mat and those in the large division can involve up to 20 athletes in the routine.
At the Empire Regional at Nassau Community College, Riverhead beat out other Long Island schools, including Smithtown East (2), Sachem East (3) and Walt Whitman (4).
Having already clinched their trip to Disney World, the Blue Waves faced less pressure going into the Pocono Regional.
“I’m sure they were more relaxed, but they also kind of felt like they had something to prove because they had done so well at the Empire Regional,” Piraino said. “They wanted to come and just show people that it wasn’t a one-time thing. All week in practice they kind of showed that.”
The team’s captains, seniors Melissa Blackmore Wiggly and Chelsea Cawley, have been instrumental in its success, Piraino said. They’ve both been captains since they were sophomores.
“They kind of set the tone for everyone else,” Piraino said. “The option is just to always do our best and rise to whatever occasion it is. I would attribute a lot of the success to their attitude.”
Both girls are full-time cheerleaders who compete year-round. The Blue Waves actually begin their preseason practices in April. The official season begins in August and the Section XI competitions started up just this month, leading up to the county championships in February, which will be in their third year.
The Blue Waves had planned to compete at the first Section XI competition Saturday, but the meet was postponed due to weather. It was pushed back to Sunday, so the Blue Waves opted to compete at the UCA regional, for which they had already registered.
Piraino said she’s excited for the upcoming Section XI competitions this year, which run through February, because the scoring has been adjusted to reflect the UCA system and add more consistency. She said the Blue Waves are aiming for top-three finishes at each competition.
Photo caption: The Riverhead cheerleaders won the UCA Pocono Regional Saturday. (Courtesy photo)