By BRIAN JENNINGS
When Liz McQuatters first came into the cheerleading program, Andrea Pepe was the cheer director. McQuatters was close friends with Pepe until Pepe passed away from breast cancer in 2015, which was the first year Southington qualified for the national championships.
Pepe had aspirations of growing the program and a dream to go to the national championships, but she never had a chance to get there. However, the Southington Knights travel cheerleaders are continuing her legacy. They qualified both Division 14 (ages 11-14) and Division 10 (ages 8-10) teams for this year’s national championships, which were held at The Walt Disney World Resort from Saturday, Dec. 9 to Sunday, Dec. 10.
“We’re very fortunate that Southington has a great group of girls that absolutely love cheerleading,” said Liz McQuatters, who is the Southington Knights travel cheerleaders director and a Division 14 coach. “We push them, and they love it. The girls that we have are just amazing.”
Most of the cheerleading families arrived at the resort on Thursday, Dec. 7 where they checked in at the host hotel. There, credentials were processed, coaches’ wristbands were handed out, and team pictures were taken.
Universal Studios were closed down to the public and only open to Southington’s AYC and AYF football players and cheerleaders on Thursday night. Friday was filled with practice, team bonding, and lunch amongst the cheerleaders and coaches.
“It was intense,” said McQuatters. “It was very busy, and you don’t have a lot of downtime.”
A new format was implemented into this year’s national competition. In years past, teams usually competed in just one day. This year, the top five teams moved on to “Super Sunday” from Saturday’s qualifier. Every team had two and a half minutes to perform their routines out on the mat, which included a cheer, stunts, a pyramid, and a dance.
On day one, the Division 14 team placed first out of six teams. It was the Division 14 team’s third-straight year qualifying for the national championships, which brought back mostly all of the same girls.
“It was awesome,” said McQuatters. “I figured that the older girls weren’t going to have a problem. That team had placed first going through the local, state, and regional competitions. So, they had done really well all season. The Division 14 girls are seasoned professionals and know how to perform.”
The Division 10 team finished in third out of 14 teams and moved on to Super Sunday with the Division 14 team. Only a few of the members from the Division 10 team had gone to the national championships before, as the trip to Disney was a new experience for most of the girls.
“Honestly, I was nervous about the Division 10 team because they had a lot more competition,” said McQuatters. “So, for them to be third out of all 14 teams, it was absolutely amazing. We could not have been happier for them.”
The Division 10 team placed third overall, as the Texas Toros won the Division 10 national title. The Division 14 team finished as runner-up to the Tyngsborough Tigers of Massachusetts by nine tenths of a point for the Division 14 national title. The Division 14 team beat out the Tyngsborough Tigers at the regional competition.
“Both teams just blew away our expectations,” said McQuatters. “They brought so much life and fire to their routine. They wanted it so badly, and you could see that in their performance. Our motto is, ‘Rock that mat,’ and they definitely rocked that mat.”
Shortly after McQuatters and her daughter, Avery McQuatters, got home from Disney, Avery fell on top of her suitcase on the floor and told her mother that she missed being with her teammates at Disney already. McQuatters said that it’s not about the trophy or the first-place jackets; it’s about the experiences, memories, and people they’ve met and impacted positively along the way.
“They’re truly a family,” said McQuatters. “Their age differences don’t matter when they’re together. It’s been pretty amazing to watch the girls grow up and become young women. For us, it’s more than just teaching them how to cheer. It’s about teaching them how to be good people, and that’s important to me.”
The nine members of the Division 10 team include Reilly Bard, Kayla Beach, Laila DiBattista, Macy Gilroy, Brittany Gorneault, Isabella Holton, Shelby Morris, Vashty Stanley, and Lilie Woodward.
The 32 members of the Division 14 team include Kyla Bedard, Maggie Blanchard, Jeremi Bobbitt, Jenny Burzynski, Sammy Cannuli, Maddie Chesanow, Olivia Conforto, Emily Fay, Meghan Fay, Kristina Ferreri, Jenna Flynn, Kayla Gollnick, Courtney Gorneault, Kayla Grullon-DiBenedetto, Elena Hanson, Rylee Indomenico, Kristen Jacobson, Isabella Lambert, Katy Langland, Avery McQuatters, Keira Mulligan, Mia Nieto, Bianca Olchanowski, Jasmine Ozimkoski, Amber Paprzyca, Kaitlyn Paprzyca, Madison Prendergast, Kerissa Salsbury, Trinity Stewart, Megan Walasewicz, Maggie Wernicki, and Jessica Wright.
About 14 girls will be aging out of the Division 14 team after this season to move on to high school.
Coaches of the Division 10 team include Amy Wernicki (head coach), Laura Rothkopf, and Angela White. Coaches of the Division 14 team include Tanya Bioski (head coach), Melissa Formeister, Vicki Langland, and Liz McQuatters.
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