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Nationals

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The Mount Sinai cheerleading team screams in exultation as they learn they won nationals. Photo from Megan McWain

Even when a Mount Sinai cheerleader falls, whether it’s in a competition or on the mat, they have the will to dust themselves off and work even harder.

That has been the theme for this cheerleading season, Mustangs coach Megan McWain said, who along with fellow coach Christina Lotito has seen the team through a season full of ups and downs, culminating with a Division II large-school victory at the 2019 UCA National High School Cheerleading Championship in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 10. 

The Mount Sinai cheerleading team perform a routine in Orlando, Florida. Photo from Megan McWain

When the team members learned they had won, McWain said the girls could not contain their excitement.

“They were so ecstatic — some of them were jumping up and down, some were sitting on the floor crying,” she said. “It’s just a big ball of emotions. We worked since May in open gyms getting ready for this moment, and this was the pinnacle of what they wanted to achieve. To learn that you did it is just so amazing.” 

The team arrived in Orlando Feb. 7 and went down to the local football fields for one final run of routines surrounded by thousands of other cheerleaders from all 50 states. The jaw-dropping sight of seeing so many teams compete didn’t do anything to dampen their spirits. 

The squad had suffered a number of setbacks early in the season, including a few illnesses and injuries that led to a number of missed chances and defeats. Eighth-grader Emily Kandell suffered an injury in January and was only cleared to get back on the mat a week before the team went down to Florida.

During the competition, McWain said their performance wasn’t at peak the first day of the tournament. The team was in third going into the last day of the competition. During their final performance the team had a misstep, and one girl took a fall. The only way they could win despite the fumble was if they pushed themselves to their limits, and McWain said, they accomplished that.

“It’s hard to win with a fall — a lot of teams when they fall, they kind of deflate after that,” she said. “But we didn’t. We performed a thousand times harder just to fill out the rest of that score from that fall.”

The Mount Sinai cheerleading team perform a routine in Orlando, Florida. Photo from Megan McWain

While this is not the first time the team has taken home the first place trophy at nationals, having won in 2014 and 2016, McWain said it is the ultimate goal that the cheerleaders work all year round for. She hopes the team can continue the streak as nine members of the squad are expected to graduate this year.

There are three large-school cheerleading teams that compete in Suffolk County, but Mount Sinai is the only Division II squad. The Lady Mustangs will represent the county in the state’s 2019 

Cheerleading Championships will be hosted in Rochester March 2. 

“We’re trying to hit a clean routine and were actually able to put all our kids on the mat including our alternates, so it will be really good to have all of them on the mat and working together as a team to get another championship,” McWain said. 

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Hauppauge's cheerleading team placed second in the county after finishing second in the nation. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

The Eagles soar to another second-place finish.

After earning a runner-up nod at nationals two weeks ago, the Hauppauge cheerleading team placed second in the county in Small School Session 1 with a 90.3 score, just two points behind top-finisher Longwood.

“It feels good considering that there were so many teams that didn’t make it here,” head coach Laura Alonzo said. “It’s a little disappointing for us, however, because we knew going into it all we had to was hit. We didn’t do that, but the rest of the routine was great.”

Senior Francesca Capilets gets the crowd excited. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Hauppauge was deducted 2.5 points for a minor fall during its routine, so without that fall, the Eagles would have taken first place by half a point.

Taking third was Walt Whitman (86.1), fourth West Islip (84.4) and fifth William Floyd (83.6).

Hauppauge senior three-year starter Sam Suazo said coming in second was not what the team wanted, but was happy with how her final season with the Eagles went.

“I’m proud of the season and how far we’ve come throughout the year with everything that we’ve accomplished,” Suazo said. “Even though we had a fall, we still had a great performance today. This has been my favorite team, and I had such a nice time this year.”

Senior Francesca Capilets has been with the team since her freshman year. During the routine, she said the team had to work hard to make up for the fall.

“We needed to bring more excitement to the routine,” Capilets said. “It’s harder when you have a fall because the crowd is not as interested. We just had to catch everyone’s eye.”

After the national performance , Capilets said there was a lot of pressure going into the final competition at West Islip.

“We came into county’s thinking we need to have our best performance,” she said. “Nationals went so well. We hit it at nationals, and knew we had to do better here.”

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Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team, a county, state and national champion, bounced back after having its seven-year streak of first-place Empire Regional finishes snapped, to win the first meet of the regular season. Photo from Megan Wesolowski

For the first time in seven years, Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team fell short of a first-place finish at the Empire Regional championship. The girls could have sulked, hung their heads and given up the idea of maintaining their national prowess. Instead, the Mustangs used the slip to second place to fuel their fire.

“We put out an amazing routine that we were very proud of,” senior captain Alexa Tabile said of Mount Sinai’s 88.1 score Dec. 2 at Nassau County Community College that still earned the team a bid to nationals. “We took a step back and saw we need to be better, because the team that beat us was better. It’s just as simple as that.”

The girls went into the next practice asking what they could do to get back on top, and worked at it.

Mount Sinai sticks a routine. Photo from Megan Wesolowski

“I try to motivate my teammates before practice and tell them we need to be supporting each other,” Tabile said, adding that the team takes everything in stride. “It’s something I felt we did, and it led to our next first-place finish. We focus on what’s coming up next, but always have the big picture in mind.”

The Mustangs ended up in the No. 1 spot Dec. 11 at Longwood, redeeming themselves from a bobble in the pyramid at the regional competition and a fall at the  meet.

Tabile said she was still afraid of once again coming in second, because more points are deducted for a fall.

“There was a little bit of doubt,” she said. “We thought maybe the fall really put us back, but we knew we put out a routine that was clean, and everything else in the routine we hit beautifully. We kept going.”

Mount Sinai placed fifth in the state championship earlier this year after taking first in the inaugural state competition in 2016. The Mustangs won the county title last season and have a history of placing at nationals, coming in third in February and in 2015, and first in 2016 and 2014.

“They feel a great amount of pressure knowing that we have a long tradition of winning,” said first-year head coach Megan Wesolowski, who coached the district’s middle school team for the last five years and took over for long-standing leader Samantha Melella following the birth of her child. “They want to make the people that made this program proud. They’re proving that one fall or one mishap never carries through an entire routine, and Alexa Tabile is leading the team through everything. She’s one of our best back spots with great tumbling skills. Cheer-related or not, she’s there for every girl that needs her.”

Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team earned a bid to nationals next yea.r Photo from Megan Wesolowski

Mount Sinai, as Suffolk County’s only Division II Large team, competed against Division I Large schools, which made the win this time around even sweeter. Wesolowski petitioned for her team’s step up in competition.

“It’s great to have teams to compete against, and especially to be able to compete against schools with a bigger pool of girls to choose from,” she said. “Competing against yourself you kind of lose that competitive edge. We didn’t want to end up going down to nationals next year with a false sense of security.”

Tabile said the jump has not only forced her team to improve its skills and routine, but it has also been more fun.

“Now, we go to competitions and we know we have to be on point,” she said. “Going out there last year, it didn’t matter if we were doing forward rolls on the mat for two-and-half minutes, we were still getting first place. Now, we’re driven to put in the extra work because we’re competing against other teams with national titles.”

After new and old players quit the team, and through injuries and adjusting to a new coach, Mount Sinai worked to remain competitive, and Tabile said this learning experience is only making the Mustangs stronger.

“We’ve clicked very well,” she said. “Coach Wesolowski motivates us in every way and we want to do better for her. It hasn’t been the easiest season for us — we’ve had our fair share of challenges throughout the season — but I feel like we’ve never had a team with this kind of bond, where we pick each other up and say, ‘Hey, things haven’t been going as we’ve planned, and we’ve had our hardships, but we can move on from this.’”

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After placing at nationals, Port Jefferson residents Garrett Thibodeau and Sandi Woodhead earn spots on Team USA

Sandi Woodhead with her Smith Point teammates. Photo by Steven Sobel

By Clayton Collier

Smith Point lifeguards are known as some of the nation’s best. The beach has not had a drowning within the protected area since the beach officially opened in 1959.

Now two of their squad have a chance to prove they are among the best in the world, competing in the International Surf Rescue Challenge in Australia. Lifeguards Sandi Woodhead and Garrett Thibodeau, both Port Jefferson residents, will be among the competitors representing Team USA at the games in September.

“It means everything,” Thibodeau said. “I’m so honored to be able to represent the United States and compete against the best competitors in the world.”

Garrett Thibodeau, of Port Jefferson, will compete for Team USA in the international lifeguard games. Photo by Steven Sobel
Garrett Thibodeau, of Port Jefferson, will compete for Team USA in the international lifeguard games. Photo by Steven Sobel

Both Woodhead and Thibodeau will compete in the beach sprint, taplin relay, rescue race and beach flags events. The pair qualified for the international contest after participating on Smith Point’s team in the 2015 Nautica/Brown and Brown USLA National Lifeguard Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla., this past weekend.

Smith Point, an eight-time national champion, finished second at the national games for small beaches. Individually, Woodhead finished second in beach flags, while Thibodeau came in fifth. Woodhead also came in first place in the landline rescue event.

She was pleased with how she finished.

“I would have liked to have done better, because I always challenge myself,” Woodhead said. “But I am happy with how I performed and I am definitely proud of how well my team did.”

Their coach and longtime teammate, Mike Barrows, said the Port Jefferson pair both performed well but he expects an even better performance from Thibodeau in the future.

“Garrett was a bit disappointed in his performance,” he said. “However, he did not rest [before] USLA nationals and trained right through it. With proper rest, I’m
assured he could have won a national beach flags title. They will both be ready and race really well in Australia.”

Making it to nationals is no easy task. Woodhead said that out of the 98 lifeguards employed at Smith Point, about two dozen are chosen for the competition. Each morning, the lifeguards must run a 5K in soft sand and perform workouts when they are off the tower.

Sandi Woodhead, of Port Jefferson, will compete for Team USA in the international lifeguard games. Photo by Steven Sobel
Sandi Woodhead, of Port Jefferson, will compete for Team USA in the international lifeguard games. Photo by Steven Sobel

“If you show that you are excelling in these workouts, the captains and chiefs will take notice, and bring you if they believe you will do well on a national level against thousands of other ocean lifeguards,” Woodhead said.

Thibodeau, who is in his 13th year competing, said he has noticed an increase in attention to the games. The beach flags finals occurred at 8 p.m. under floodlights before a large crowd and was streamed live online. Thibodeau said the growing interest helps to pump him up before his events.

“While I always take my events seriously, knowing that there’s going to be more people watching heightens the energy level, and I feed off of that,” he said. “Imagine playing any sport in an empty stadium compared to a packed stadium with fans cheering. The level of play is going to rise.”

Open and Youth National teams coordinator Skip Prosser said the growing attention to the sport is the result of the hard work and effort of a number of people.

“Any excitement or progression in the level of popularity of the sport is surely the work of all those who have ever been involved, specifically those individuals who have worked for many years on the promotion of the sport and continue to do so, without any official USLA title,” he said. “It is with great hope that when my appointment ends, that I can look back and say that I made a difference.”

As a result of the increased interest, Thibodeau has noticed a higher level of competition at the events. As he heads off to Australia with Team USA next month, however, he said the international games have always been a monster all their own.

“You don’t have the luxury of warming up and getting into your groove,” he said. “You’re going against the best from the very first run. You need to be on point out of the gate, or you could be out.”

Isabella Nelin and Isabella Petriello pose for a photo with their lacrosse sticks at the Brine National Lacrosse Classic. Photo from Anthony Petriello

Both girls made the team, again.

And although Isabella Petriello and Isabella Nelin were not able to help the Long Island sophomores defend the Brine National Lacrosse Classic championship title the girls won as freshmen, they’re just happy to be able to continue to play the sport they love.

“Lacrosse is my passion — it’s really taken over my whole life,” Petriello said. ”It’s helped me not only to be a better athlete, but it’s helped me with everything. With my time management skills, my ability to focus, to accept failure, and to just keep working hard.”

The athletes, both defenders, continued to work hard at the lacrosse classic in Midlothian, Virginia, outscoring much of the competition despite an early loss, and cruised to the semifinals, where the team fell to would-be champion Pennsylvania, 8-4.

“It was a great experience,” Petriello said. “It was an honor to get the chance to play with such talented girls that share the same passion as me.”

Nelin’s mother, Karen, was just proud of her daughter for making the team for a second year in a row, and is proud of what her daughter has been able to accomplish since she first joined the sport in the seventh grade.

“I feel like Bella can definitely get the job done,” Karen Nelin said. “I have such confidence in her. She’s a fast runner, she’s very tall, and she’s also good when her teammate needs help to slide. She’s a voice out there. Even when the offense has the ball, she’s out there encouraging them, and is confident and supportive.”

Petriello said the loss pushed her to want to do bigger and better things in the future.

“You go into it expecting the things that you did last year because you’ve been working so hard, and it definitely was hard, I wont lie, but failure and losing are a part of being successful,” she said. “When I don’t reach my goal the way I want to, that’s what I use to light my fire. It helps me keep fighting to get to where I want to be in life.”

And Isabella Petriello’s father, Anthony, said his daughter has some things you simply can’t teach.

“She has that grit, that desire and that heart every single time she goes out there,” he said. “That gives her the ability to help her teammates and do the things that she needs to do on the field, along with her teammates, to get the job done.”

Although Isabella Petriello has been involved in the sport longer than Isabella Nelin, both have been named strong players. Petriello uses more aggression, while Nelin likes to be more tactical.

The defenders play for the Long Island Top Guns travel team, but Petriello picked up the sport when she was in second grade, playing for the Brookhaven Town team before playing for Miller Place.

“She lives and breathes lacrosse for her ultimate goal of playing at the college level,” Anthony Petriello said, adding that his daughter plays volleyball for the school team, as well as in a Middle Country school district lacrosse league on Thursday evenings. “What a reward for parents to see their child succeed in anything in life.”

Nelin, on the other hand, picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time in seventh grade after her friends tried to get her to join.

“I was a little rusty at first, but I’d go over their house and ask them to please throw and catch with me,” she said, laughing. “Even when we don’t even plan on practicing, we end up grabbing sticks and going outside and having a pass. Once you start playing the sport, you don’t stop. I feel like I always have a stick in my hand.”

Although she started later, Nelin has trained with many coaches, including local defender Shanna Brady of Smithtown, who played for St. Anthony’s and currently plays for NCAA tournament-winning University of Maryland. Nelin also plays varsity lacrosse for Ward Melville.

The girls like the team aspect of defense, and work well together on the field.

“We both know where the other one is on the field at all times and know what the other person will do, and it makes it a lot easier,” Petriello said. “[Isabella Nelin] is always pushing herself and, especially me and others, to be better,” she said.

Nelin is also comfortable working alongside her Long Island teammate.

“The coaches don’t know us, so when they ask who wants to start on defense, we both stand next to each other and try to raise our hands at the same time,” Nelin said, laughing. “We both want to get on the field at the same time. I can trust her when she says she has my right and tells me to force a player somewhere so we can double-team her.”

And Brine’s Long Island team’s coach Megan McCormack, noticed the girls’ chemistry quickly.

“They were both very talkative, very aggressive,” she said. “They worked well with one another and meshed well with the other girls on the team.”

Nelin is excited to see where the future will take her.

“Lacrosse really means a lot to me,” she said. “I feel like it’s my future. I’d love to play in college and it’s helped me meet a bunch of new people. It’s opened new doors for me; I’ve traveled to a bunch of different states and it’s just been amazing. I feel like it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

McCormack believes that Nelin and Petriello’s futures will be bright.

“You can see and pick up on that chemistry right away,” she said. “I knew that they felt comfortable with one another. They knew what each other did well and what each other needed, whether or not they should push one another, so I thought they really complemented each other well. I know they both had successful lacrosse careers ahead of them.”