BY ERIN HELLHAKE
The cheerleading team competed in the National High School Cheerleading Championships at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida. The year began with football in early fall, and the competition season ended with the national competition in mid-February.
Head Coach Christine Cotugno said that while the team normally spends the better part of the competition season focused on preparation for Nationals, this season they did not know whether they would be in the competition until very close to the date. “Every game we were able to cheer at and every competition we were able to attend felt like a win,” said Cotugno.
This season presented a variety of challenges, but the team persevered. “We got a bid for the game day and routine team divisions for Nationals, despite having to change things around,” said senior Kayla Lance. “It was especially hard during Regionals because we had two injured girls,” said Lance. “It was stressful, but we still made it work and got our bids.”
Senior Julia Leonhardt said that she felt fortunate to be able to compete regularly again after only participating in one virtual competition last year due to COVID. “The competition season was harder than normal this year,” said Leonhardt, “but it made us closer, as we all wanted to succeed and pushed each other to do our best. We came off a very long break and competed with teams we weren’t normally up against. At Nationals, we competed in a hard division.”
Placing third at the UCA Pocono Regional competition in early December won the athletes the bid to participate in the national competition at Disney. “High school teams travel there [the NHSCC] to compete after qualifying at regional events from 36 states,” said Cotugno.
The team competes in the Game Day Large Varsity division and the Medium Varsity I division. “Each division has about 60 teams in it, with some having over 100 teams,” said Cotugno.
In the first events of the year, the team competed in the ‘game day’ division, which highlights routines performed at sports games in response to gameplay. Senior Sara Doyle explained, “Game day is what you would do at a football game, like sideline cheers, a band dance, and a fight song. It is all about getting the crowd engaged.”
The Knights placed first in the Hunterdon Central Competition and, for the sixth time, won the GMC Red Division, which includes both game day and traditional performances. “Traditional routine is more competitive, so you have a more complicated routine, including stunts, tumbling, jumps, dance, and a school cheer,” said Doyle.
The cheer season begins with tryouts at the end of the previous school year. Throughout the summer the team participates in practice, camp, and choreography. Coach Cotugno said that she is excited to begin planning for next season. “The returning athletes seem very motivated to lead the team into a very successful and competitive season.”
Posted on 3/17/22
Photos by Gabriella Master