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Cheerleading: Riverhead hits the mat running

The season may officially just be starting, but the Riverhead Blue Waves are already in mid-season form.

Coming off one of the best seasons in program history, Riverhead’s cheerleading team has picked up right where it left off. In a two-week span, the Blue Waves already qualified for the Universal Cheerleaders Association National High School Championship in February and picked up a first place at a Section XI competition.

The Blue Waves competed at West Babylon High School Saturday in the first competition of the school season and scored 85.3 points to win in Division I small. William Floyd was second with 80.75 points.

“They hit a perfect routine,” said Riverhead coach Stephanie Piraino. “From a coach’s perspective, myself and [assistant coach] Lauren Berry couldn’t have been prouder. They went out and did everything we asked them to do and they reaped the benefits.”

On Dec. 2, the team competed at the UCA Empire Regional at Nassau Community College and finished second in its division. That was good enough to earn the Blue Waves a trip back to the nationals where they placed 14th last February.

Piraino said the routine the Blue Waves performed Saturday is basically what they’ll look to perfect as they continue through the season in February.

“The consistency of running that same routine should get them in a really comfortable position for nationals,” Piraino said. “Not so that they become lax, but they become more confident in what they’re doing.”

At a competition like Saturday’s, the Blue Waves are more focused on hitting their routine than worrying about where they finish in the standings. After all, there’s no defense in cheerleading.

“We always tell the kids, go out there, hit a routine with no deductions and come off the mat knowing that routine was perfect,” Piraino said.

Riverhead competed at the Section XI Championships last season and the goal will be to get back there again. This year will mark the fourth county championships since cheerleading became a sanctioned sport.

The Blue Waves competed Saturday against many of the teams they will see throughout the year like Smithtown East and West and Walt Whitman.

The Blue Waves lost four seniors from last year’s team, leaving spots for newcomers to seize this season as part of the 12-girl routine. Piraino said the team added “some young blood.”

Two eighth graders joined the varsity in addition to a sophomore. They’re all getting their first taste of varsity competition.

Senior Taylor Bunch returns as a leader who’s now in her fourth season, Piraino said.

“She’s carrying the tradition,” Piraino said.

There’s a change this season in the scoring system for the Section XI meets. Piraino said the judges at those competitions will now use the same scoresheets that are used in UCA competitions. It’ll help bring more consistency to the scoring.

Piraino said it made sense to transition to the scoring system used by UCA, since most teams in the county compete at those meets already.

The Blue Waves return to the mat Saturday with another Section XI meet at Smithtown East High School. They’ll continue with meets every weekend in the new year up through the county championships Feb. 16.

Photo caption: The Riverhead cheerleading team after its win Saturday. (Courtesy photo)

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