By Bill Landon
Cheerleading squads from all over Suffolk County converged on the mats of Rocky Point High School Sunday for the Suffolk County cheerleading sectionals, where Rocky Point and Comsewogue ran away with first-place finishes.
Cheerleading officially became a recognized sport in the 2015-16 school year, making this sectional event the first time that the competition is overseen and sanctioned by the New York State Public High School Athletics Association.
Rocky Point was the first of 31 teams to take to the mat first in Small School Division I “A,” and the squad wowed the crowd with a two-and-a-half minute routine, despite head coach Anna Spallina feeling less impressed with her Eagles, which are 12-time regional and three-time national champions.
“You have two and a half minutes to prove yourself out on the mat — if you don’t prove yourself in those two and a half minutes, you don’t get a second chance,” Spallina said. “You can’t go to the net again with a ball, or throw that pass one more time, so one little slip, an inch this way or an inch that way, and you can throw it away.”
Pleased or not Spallina’s squad earned first place in the division followed by Longwood and East Islip came in third.
With a squad of consisting of mainly eighth and ninth-graders, and only three seniors, Rocky Point senior Courtney Kelly said the Eagles’ only competition was themselves.
“We don’t worry about any other teams, we just worry about ourselves because the only routine we have to beat is ours,” she said.
Brittany Reh said there are some other challenges now that cheerleading is recognized as a sport, such as a different scoring sheet and new rules, but thought her team performed well despite the changes.
“We had a pretty good performance,” she said. “We stayed positive.”
Claire Johannesen said her team has had better execution on the mat, but will continue to work hard to remain at the team’s standards.
“Today was an okay performance, so we definitely have things we have to go to work on in practice,” she said. “But we did many things well that we’ll build on going forward.”
Northport hit the mat next looking to give Rocky Point a run for first place, and after a performance that impressed the judges, the Tigers’ head coach Danielle Milazzo talked about the adjustment her team has had to adjust to the scoring changes.
“The whole scoring rubric is completely different from last year, so we’re trying to get used to that,” Milazzo said. “We’ve reworked routines to align them with the scoring sheets to try to make sure we get the maximum number of points from New York State.”
Comsewogue hit the mat in the second session, as did Kings Park, competing in the Small School Division I “B.” The Warriors put on a flawless performance as the crowd exploded in applause with their finish, but head coach Stefanie Breitfeller was just relieved that the routine was behind her, as the team had yet another hurdle to jump prior to a competition.
“We had a major change this morning as I found out last night one of the girls came down with pink eye,” Breitfeller said. “We had to replace a starter, so we came into this thinking this could go badly or it could go very well.”
Comsewogue senior Samantha Donlon was thrilled with her team’s first-place finish.
“We did absolutely amazing — we have worked so hard for this day and I’m really proud,” she said. “I’m so happy and this will make us perform even harder next week.”
Comsewogue senior Rachel Steck said she thought her Warriors team also performed well, but thinks that like always, there is room for improvement.
“It could’ve been a little tighter, but I’m just so proud of my team,” she said.”We did our best today. We’ll practice our routine; we’ll make it harder and we’ll make it cleaner.”
For junior Brittany Dein, she thought her team performed beyond its expectations with the last-minute change.
“All week we’ve been running the routine a whole bunch of times and I can’t fault any part of our performance,” Dein said.
The teams will reconvene on Sunday Jan. 24 at Hauppauge High School for the second round of competition.