Local Squads Use Rams Invitational Cheer Competition as Tuneup for Nationals

Jan 24, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy The Southern Regional cheer squad performs its exhibition routine during the Rams Invitational competition on Jan. 21.

The last third of January always sparks a fire among competition cheer squads across the state, and in Southern Ocean County the fire is blazing. After all, the Universal Cheerleaders Association National High School Championships are just around the corner, and for Pinelands Regional, Barnegat and Southern Regional high schools it means it’s time to get things totally straight.

“The bar is set and our expectations are high,” said Southern senior Jessica Lependorf after she and the rest of coach Lisa Merlo’s crew performed their exhibition routine to culminate the Rams Invitational on Jan. 21. “We’re three weeks out from Nationals, and our biggest thing is to go there and do everything we can to do the best routine we can and have no regrets.”

The National Championships are set for Feb. 10 and 11 at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., and Southern will be competing in Medium Varsity Division I, typically a very competitive division.

“First, we want to make the finals, and then the goal is to be in the top five,” said Southern senior Victoria Sheeran. “Our mindset has to be to put all outside things aside between now and then and be focused on nothing but giving 110 percent, push through any difficulties we might have, and leave it all out on the mat.”

Coach Kelly Flannery’s Pinelands squad will have a similar mindset heading to Orlando, especially after an excellent routine on Sunday and a second-place finish in the Garden State Cheer Championships.

“We had a great routine today, and usually at the Southern competition we’re cursed,” said senior Allura Miller, who along with the rest of the squad will be preparing for Nationals by competing in the St. Hubert Catholic School competition in Philadelphia this weekend. “But we have so much confidence right now, it’s scary. We have our routine set. We have the talent. And all we have to do now is clean up a few things and we’re good. We’re ready for Nationals.”

One thing that may have prepared the Northeast Regional champions more so for this year’s Nationals is the fact they have had to overcome a lot of obstacles this season, particularly without their usual practice and gym space while Pinelands Regional High School has been closed for structural issues. The team has been practicing at the West Tuckerton Fire Co. Station 71 building.

“They’ve been really great to us this season. Every day, they move the trucks out so we can use the firehouse to practice,” said Miller, who as a sophomore was on the team that placed third in the nation – Pinelands’ best Medium Varsity Division II finish to date. “That hasn’t been easy for us, not having our school to practice in. But we overcame that obstacle, together, as a team, and now we know we can overcome anything.”

As for Barnegat, this year brings a couple of slight alterations as the Bengals gear up for the national competition. Not only will the Bengals be competing for the first time in the Small Varsity Division I, they also will have a squad competing in a co-ed Game Day division, since freshman Luiz Pedraza joined the team this year.

“The biggest key for Game Day is getting the crowd going and having fun,” said senior Trinity Harris. “We were third last year, but this year we’re going to be in a co-ed division so it will be a different experience for us. But we’re going to push harder than we did last year. We want to win it this time. I think we can do it.”

In the Small Varsity division, the competition is going to be tough. But after winning a Northeast Regional title in November, the Bengals believe a top-three finish is highly possible.

“We set our goals every day, and it’s all about hitting our routine,” said senior Kait Nueva. “For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to tweak things, but we’re ready for Nationals. We’ve been working really hard and we’re very confident. We just have to keep our hopes high and put all our effort into it.”

Not surprisingly, with the success the Barnegat High School cheer squad has had in recent years, the fire burns down into the Russell O. Brackman Middle School. The Bulldogs were equally impressive in Sunday’s competition at neighboring Southern.

“It does put a little more pressure on us as a coaching staff to prepare our girls for what’s to come in high school,” said Brackman head coach Jamie Armstrong. “Part of our goal is build a program that is seamless with the high school’s program. Our coaches interact a lot, as do the girls. And we’re pushing the girls. We want them to be successful now, for sure, but we’re preparing them for the future as well, for when they’re going to Nationals.”

Besides Harris, Nueva and Pedraza, the rest of the Barnegat squad includes seniors Britney Adams, Ashley Brack, Gianna Lavelle-Butler, Jaylene McGirr-Lorentz and Gabriella Talluto, juniors Reannah Cooper, Gianna Spano, Juliana Cascio and Victoria Leonard, sophomores Madison Brack, Kimberley Godfrey, Zaniyah Harris, Hailey Hill and Emma Kelly, and freshmen Destiny Fratianni, Gabriela Kovaly, Samantha Madej and Erin Rhinesmith.

In addition to Lependorf and Sheeran, Southern’s crew includes senior Amy Lyle, juniors Ashley Gale, Brielle Mulrane, Brieanna Baker, Daria Downs and Amy Kaszuba, sophomores Gabriella Haugland, Emily Bartolini, Shayna Rainone, Hannah Gile and Alexa Hernandez, and freshmen Rebecca Brummer, Bailey Hradek, Bria Mineo, Daniella Mineo, Catalina Pisciotta, Angela Scully and Carly Spodofora.

With Miller as one of the leaders, the rest of the Pinelands team includes seniors Jade Rhodes, Haley Jackson, Brittney Capriotti, Haley Jeannotte, Emily Ruehle, Hailey Thurston, Melissa Sikora and Sandra Hand, juniors Kasey Heisler, Kiera Deschin and Lindsey Maffei, sophomores Madison Price and Kayla Carson, and freshmen Tiffani Lombardi and Alyse Wasylkowski.

— David Biggy


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