The Shoreham-Wading River competitive cheerleading team had been through the routine before. Once the Wildcats perform in the preliminary round at major meets, they usually sit in the stands, await the names of the finalists to be announced and then pack their bags for the bus ride home.
The only thing was, what happened Saturday night at the state meet wasn’t routine. Far from it.
Then again, this has been a far-from-routine season for SWR.
A SWR team that entered the season as one of the most inexperienced the Wildcats have ever had, turned out to be the greatest team in program history. What was to be a rebuilding season evolved into a championship season as the Wildcats won their first Suffolk County title.
And then there was the not-so-little thing SWR accomplished Saturday night. Competing in their first state meet, the Wildcats shocked themselves by first qualifying for the five-team finals and then finishing fourth at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Gordon Field House & Activities Center.
So, how does this rank among the program’s achievements?
“Oh, at the very top,” coach Brie Carlen said. “We’ve never won counties [before this season], let alone compete at the state level, and then to reach finals at the states was huge for us because it proved that we were meant to be there.”
And, just to put the achievement in perspective, consider this: of the 19 cheerleaders on SWR’s roster, 15 of them had never competed before this season.
“It was incredible,” said back Elizabeth Holden, who along with base Isabella Stewart are the team’s only seniors. “I was so surprised at how hard everyone started working because my first year, I had no idea what to expect from cheer. So, I see all these new girls coming in and, yeah, they don’t know what to expect, but they’re willing to try anything. They worked so hard and we made it, which is crazy.”
Crazy would be the word.
SWR emerged from the 12-team Division II Large School preliminaries, and that was a stunner in itself. Carlen said her team’s performance in the prelims “was OK, but it actually wasn’t our best performance.”
Then, lo and behold, SWR was announced as one of the five finalists. Its prelim score, 74.55, was the fourth highest.
“Everyone started screaming,” Holden said. “I just couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Carlen, whose team competed at the Division II Large School level for the first time this season after having previously been a Division II Small School team, said: “It took a solid minute for us to realize it was our team that was called. We were all hysterical crying. I think at one point my phone was blowing up with congratulatory messages from people, and I couldn’t even type back to them because my hands were shaking.”
Within 15 minutes of its performance in the prelims, SWR was back on the mat for the finals. The Wildcats didn’t have much time to digest what had happened. Just enough time for a quick drink of water, a moment to catch their breath and then warm up.
The Wildcats found energy in the finals that may have been lacking in the prelims.
“I think we were so much better at finals,” Holden said. “I was just talking to Coach, and she says everything happens for a reason. So, maybe our prelim performance wasn’t our best because our best was supposed to happen at finals.”
In the finals, they received a score of 75.80. Seaford was first with 92.05, followed by Starpoint (83.75) and Pearl River (77.50). Hannibal (70.35) was fifth.
“When they called the fifth-place team and it wasn’t us, we all just looked at each other confused,” Carlen said. “Then they called us up for fourth, and when my team went out to accept their plaque, they had these blank looks on their faces because they were all just in disbelief. I don’t think it hit them until we got on the bus ride home and then they just started blasting music and it was a party.”
SWR junior back/flyer Juliana Lautato saw it as validation. “We wanted to give it our best and show them like we were meant to be in the states,” she said.
This was the sixth year of the state meet, which wasn’t held last year because of the pandemic.
Holden and Lautato captained SWR along with two juniors, flyer Katie Dawson and main base/flyer Jillian Trentowski, the only other cheerleaders with experience before this season. Also competing for SWR were: Jocelynn Besold, Kaylee Brady, Olivia Beirne, Amber Condzella, Kaitlyn Fioretti, Gianna Hughes, Katie Lahey, Alexa Langenhahn, Mery Macias, Naomi Madrid, Katelyn Morello, Leah Tufano and Gabrielle Ziegler. Aleia Marcellino, was ill and not available, said Carlen.
Morello, a freshman main base, received a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Sportsmanship Award.
“I don’t even believe what happened,” Holden said. “I’m obviously upset that that was my last competition because I’ll be graduating, but it was a great one to go out on.”
For inexperienced SWR, it was an experience of a lifetime.