The clock was ticking as soon as the Riverhead cheerleaders got their full competition team together during November tryouts. In past years, the team begins preparing for its competitive schedule in late summer and the work continues throughout the fall alongside the regular football cheer season.
This year presented a new wrinkle.
“We had a lot of gaps,” said Riverhead coach Stephanie Piraino, noting it was an unusual start to the year, especially since the team did not compete at all last season due to the budget cuts.
For the Blue Waves to earn another trip to Florida and the Universal Cheerleaders Association High School Nationals, they needed a top performance at a regional competition. And they had barely three weeks to put together a routine and perfect it.
The expectations remained high and the coaches didn’t scale back the routine that the 15 team members would perform at the Empire Regional at Wantagh High School.
“We always tell the kids, listen we want to have an expectation for Riverhead cheerleading, but we also want to put them out there to be successful,” Piraino said. “So we gave them a pretty difficult routine. They probably had the most tumbling that any Riverhead team had.”
The girls got to work, putting in the time with morning practices and whenever they could to nail down the routine in a condensed schedule.
The hard work paid off.
On Dec. 12, the team placed second in its division — Small, Division I — at the regional competition to earn a place at the UCA Nationals in February, continuing a tradition for the Blue Waves program.
“They did a phenomenal job. They hit a perfect routine,” Piraino said.
The competition looked a lot different than past years due to the ongoing pandemic. Each team performed in front of only family members. Instead of each team huddling together on the mats at the end of the competition to hear the final results read, they all went back and waited for the judges to weigh in virtually.
The team arrived back at the high school and waited for a video to be uploaded to an app that they gathered around to watch, where the results were ready one by one, starting from the bottom.
Piraino said the kids were “ecstatic” upon hearing their placement, not only for earning a trip to nationals, but for accomplishing the goal they had set out of a top-three finish.
“They hit a clean, solid routine so no matter what position they came in, I don’t know that there was anything else they could have done,” she said.
Piraino credited the team’s captains, seniors Reanna Menotti, Mikayla Scott and Alyssa Tomko for setting a high standard and exceeding those expectations. The girls were just sophomores the last time the team fielded a regular season. And some other team members were just in middle school. Piraino said the team was also able to pick up some “great athletes” this winter coming off the football season.
The UCA competitions are separate from the school-sanctioned competitions the team competes in through Section XI. That season just began and the Blue Waves already notched one second place finish in their first competition Dec. 4 at Sachem North High School. They’ll compete again Saturday at Commack High School.
The team must pay its own way to Florida, so the girls have begun a crowdfunding effort to help offset costs. Anyone interested in helping can visit a GoFundMe page that was created Friday.
“We’ve had so many kids benefit from this trip that it’s almost like a disservice not to take them,” Piraino said. “The kids get to meet college coaches, they get to network with other college teams.”
SWR Nationals Bound
The Shoreham-Wading River cheerleading team is bound for Florida as well having earned a top five finish at the Empire Regional.