Wildcat Classic the Last Stop Before Nationals and the Conclusion of Cheer Careers

By DAVID BIGGY | Feb 01, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

In just under two weeks, a bunch of senior cheerleaders suddenly will have little to do after school. No more long hours of practice. No more Sunday competitions. Just the memories of the past four years with their “second” families.

“It won’t hit me until it’s over, when I’m sitting around the house doing nothing,” said Ashleigh Schnelker, who along with classmates Makenna Thomas and Katie Boyd took to the floor in their gym one last time, as the Pinelands Regional cheer squad culminated the 14th annual Wildcat Classic. “I mean, cheer is home. I love it. And everything I’ve done with my teammates and everything that has gone into it the past four years has been worth it.”

For the Pinelands, Barnegat and Southern Regional seniors, the Jan. 29 Classic was their final local performance before Feb. 11-12, when they finish up their cheer careers at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex for the Universal Cheerleading Association National Championships.

“Today was about getting it all together, getting the nerves out,” said Barnegat’s Selena Frusco. “We want to be on the same page when we get to nationals.”

In the varsity divisions, Southern’s solid routine won the Small Varsity while Barnegat did a fine routine and was first among the Medium Varsity. Barnegat’s crew then edged out Southern in the Game Day division, before Pinelands – which was not eligible to win because it was the host – finished up with a fantastic exhibition routine that brought the house down.

“We’re all trying to put together the perfect routine and get our teamwork right,” said Southern’s Tiffanie Colecchia. “Today, we tried to increase our difficulty. We put it all out there because we’re trying to get it all right for nationals. What we did today is what we’re doing in Florida, so this was the time to test it out and see where we have to improve.”

Following the Manchester and Burlington Township Middle School squads, the Rams took the floor and put together a three-pronged routine – two musical components sandwiched around a standard cheer component without music – with few mishaps.

Prior to Marlboro’s routine in the Medium Varsity group, the Bengals went through a similar three-part routine that looked crisp and clean through most of it, save for one miscue near the end, before the Southern and Barnegat crews returned a short time later for the Game Day portion of the competition.

The Game Day routines are geared around what most people see and hear from the sidelines during football games, and the Rams and Bengals performed what appeared to be – and most in the gym can’t guess at what the judges see as they deduct points – nearly flawless routines.

Eventually, the Wildcats came out for the final exhibition performance of the day, much to the delight of most in the gym at that point. And the Wildcats pretty much were spot on, resulting in an explosive roar of approval from the crowd.

“We needed this performance,” Schnelker said. “We’ve had a rough couple of months leading up to this, and we had to get in a last really good performance to gain the confidence we needed heading to nationals.”

And so now, that’s the focus for the next 10 days – what’s coming at Disney World.

“It’s nerve-racking,” said Southern’s Shannon Mathis. “There’s a lot going on in one place. There’s a lot of pressure. All the bright lights are on, and there are cameras everywhere. It’s enough to make you want to throw up.”

“It’s scary, every time,” said Colecchia, who along with Mathis will have been to the national competition all four years they’ve been part of Southern’s squad. “But once you do that first stunt, you’re good.”

Or are they? After all, one mishap can be the difference between advancing through to the next round or going home disappointed.

“When the music comes on, you just have to do it,” said Barnegat’s Wendy Kenny. “The key is confidence. You have to be confident in yourselves and don’t think too much.”

Barnegat senior Alyssia Adorno says it’s all about being prepared and tuning out what’s around the squad in the moment.

“We tell our team to just make it another competition,” she said. “Stay motivated to do your best and don’t worry about everything and everybody else. It’s difficult not to see all that’s going on around you, but you just have to focus on what you do.”

In Florida, Barnegat will compete in Medium Varsity Division II, and Kenny and the crew really aren’t dead set on trying to win it all, even though that would be nice.

“We want to be first, of course,” she said. “But for us, it’s really about doing the best routine we can do. If we hit our routine and do everything right, that’s all that matters. We can’t control what the judges do with the scoring.”

Likewise, Pinelands will be competing in the same division, and it’s no secret where the Wildcats want to end up. They’re going after a spot in the finals with a chance to win.

“I definitely see us on the finals mat,” Boyd said. “We work really hard, and it’s the biggest competition and it’s stressful, but that’s where we want to be. And it seems, for us, once we get to Florida, everything clicks. We’ve been in the finals all the times we’ve been there, so we’re going for it again. And once you’re in the finals, it’s just about having fun.”

And, then, no matter where the teams finish come Sunday, Feb. 12, the end will have arrived for the seniors.

“It’s sad knowing that it’s coming,” Thomas said. “We’ve put a lot of time and effort into these past four years of cheer. We’ve given up and sacrificed a lot of things for our teams. Personally, I’ve been around my teammates more than I’ve been around my family during the past four years.

“But these have been the best four years of my life. For as much as I’ve gone home from practice crying, or screaming about something after a competition, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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