By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Southington Knights Travel Cheerleaders Division 10 and 14 squads competed at the National Cheerleading Championships in Kissimmee, Fla. on Thursday, Dec. 10, and both teams came away with trophies. The Division 14 squad placed second overall, and the Division 10 squad placed third.
I’m so proud of them,” said Southington head coach Liz McQuatters. “They have worked so hard. It’s been an emotional year for all of us. They just couldn’t deserve it more. Both teams nailed their routines.”
Thursday’s trip to Florida marked the first time that the Knights qualified for the national level.
“For a first-year team to go to nationals through all the nerves and excitement? They got out there and rocked that mat,” she said.
“Rock that mat” was the motto for both of the Knights cheerleading squads.
The national meet marked the end of a long campaign. On Oct. 17, the program competed in the association’s local competition and advanced to the state, regional, and national levels. The trip to the national meet was earned when both squads scored second place at the New England Regional Cheer Competition at UMass-Amherst on Nov. 21.
McQuatters is in her first year as the head coach/cheer coordinator of the Knights Cheerleading team. She stepped into the position after the previous coordinator, Andrea Pepe, passed away from breast cancer. McQuatters served as an assistant to Pepe for two years before taking over the head coaching duties.
“It’s bittersweet for us,” said McQuatters. “There’s nothing in the world that she wanted more than to go to nationals. The program was very small at the time we started, but it had grown. They needed help with coaching, so we were asked to be coaches. We coached together our first year, then the second year she decided to run for cheer coordinator.”
Pepe was very active with the Southington Knights Travel Football and Cheer League, but decided to step down from the head cheer coordinator position earlier this year after her cancer progressed. Pepe passed away on Tuesday, June 9 after battling cancer for over four years.
A press release from the organization stated: “The girls have dedicated their season to their late cheer coordinator, Andrea Pepe, who passed away in June after a long, courageous battle with cancer. Andrea was a dedicated director and coach and was also a dear friend and mother. She is survived by her 9 year old daughter, Bryanna, and her husband, Frank.”
Bryanna Pepe is a member of the Division 10 squad. The Southington cheerleaders wear bracelets and carry funeral cards in memory of Pepe. The Knights plan on having an end-of-season party in January to honor their former coach.
The teams have done several fundraisers this season to prepare for nationals and have also created a “Go Fund Me” page (www.gofundme.com/southingtoncheer) to help pay for travel expenses for the cheerleaders and their families. Between the Go Fund Me Page and corporate sponsors, the Knights were able to divide the money they raised between 40 girls to help with their expenses. The cheerleaders had a goal of raising $10,000, but were able to come out with $150 a girl from the fundraising.
McQuatters is assisted by Angela White, Tanya Bioski, Vicki Langland, and Melissa Formeister. The Division 10 Cheerleaders are 7-10 years old girls from Southington. They are: Kayla Beach, Jenny Burzynski, Macaela Cain, Samantha Cannuli, Maddie Chesanow, Laila DiBattista, Jenna Flynn, Kayla Gollnick, Brittany Gorneault, Courtney Gorneault, Janelle Green, Rylee Indomenico, Lucianna Lambert, Katy Langland, Avery McQuatters, Bianca Olchanowski, Amber Paprzyca, Bryanna Pepe, Kerissa Salsbury, Trinity Stewart, Maggie Wernicki, and, Jessica Wright.
The Division 14 coaches are Leandra Lee, Nadia Golino, Angela White, and Liz McQuatters. The Division 14 Cheerleaders are 11 to 14 year old girls from Southington. And they are: Faith Auletta, Alyssa Bowker, Brianna Camacho, Olivia Conforto, Rebecca Conforto, Ella Fleischmann, Gabriella Flynn, Abbey Halloran, Avery Halloran, Elena Hanson, Isabel Iovanna, Kristen Jacobson, Lyzia Julia, Bella Lambert, Keira Mulligan, Kaitlyn Paprzyca, Hailey Ryder, Julia Uba, Megan Walasewicz, Amanda Ziegler, and Jillian Zitofsky.
“It still doesn’t feel real to look at that trophy,” said McQuatters. We have some first-year cheerleaders on our team and we didn’t know what to expect, but they are just incredible. They really formed a bond.”
McQuatters said that the win at nationals put Southington cheerleading on the map.
“Now other teams in the country know who Southington is,” said McQuatters. “They know that when they’re up against us at competitions, we’re going to bring it. When they see the name Southington Knights, they should be worried.”