By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Lady Knight cheerleading squad placed 11th out of 16 teams with a score of 126.4 at the Class LL Championship on Sunday, March 4. Only allowed six competitions in a season, it was Southington’s fifth, and Coach Heather Allenback said that the team had some big hurdles to overcome following the loss of a couple key cheerleaders in the month of December.
“We had to kind of reconfigure everything that we had been working on up until that point,” said Allenback. “We had to relearn everything that we had been working on.”
The Knights almost lost three cheerleaders for the season after one of their girls had undergone major back surgery, missing about a month of school. At this point last year, Allenback said that she didn’t know if that girl was ever going to cheer again.
Sure enough, that girl returned, and Allenback said that she went back to her usual position of being thrown back into the air as a flyer, regaining about 85 percent of what she was able to do before.
“Her growth, leadership, and willingness to step up through a potentially risky injury was just remarkable,” said Allenback. “I am so proud of her.”
Allenback said that she’s going to try to continue her cheerleading career with what she can do.
“She just can’t do the tumbling piece because she doesn’t have the back flexibility anymore, but she has everything else,” said Allenback. “She went up in the air and did all the things that we really needed her to do. It was amazing.”
During the regular season, the Knights came away with third and fifth-place performances in meets at Windsor and Torrington. The Knights earned a West Division title after finishing fourth overall at their league competition, and headed into the state meet with a first-place finish in their category at the New England Cheerleading Association Open Cheer and Dance Championship.
“We were pumping along really well, and then when we got to states, we probably let our nerves get the better of us,” said Allenback. “We just had a few incidental mistakes that cost you in the world of cheerleading. So, we just didn’t perform as well as we could have, but I was really proud of them. They did a really good job this year.”
Although the state meet hasn’t been so kind to the Knights in recent years, Southington is no stranger to medaling there. From 2012 to 2015, the Knights have had top-five finishes in either the Class LL or coed division, and Allenback said that the program had gone through a little bit of a lull since then, but is starting to make its way back to the success it once had.
“We really haven’t had the best middle school feeder programs,” said Allenback. “Middle school sports have been sliced and diced in Southington, and cheerleading was part of that. So, I relied a lot on and made relationships with the youth program in town.”
Allenback said that the requirements are also harder now than they were back in 2012.
“Things have gotten a little more stringent and difficult,” said Allenback. “It’s a really demanding sport, and in Southington, it’s a commitment. It definitely can take its toll on individuals.”
Allenback said that she’s still trying her best to keep building up the program, and one way of doing that is through their youth cheerleading program. Allenback said that she is expecting a good turnout from the Southington Knights travel cheerleaders to come out for the team next season.
She’s had one or two girls from the youth cheerleading program in town come out for the team over the past few years, but Allenback said that she is relying a lot on that program to produce future Lady Knight cheerleaders, and next season is the year of a big incoming group that’s had experience on the national and competitive stages.
This past December, the Division 14 (ages 11-14) team qualified for the national championships for the third-straight year and finished as runner-up by nine tenths of a point for the Division 14 national title.
“That’s a pretty well-established program, and there’s a lot of work going on there,” said Allenback. “I think that promoting that relationship with the youth will really start to pan out.”
Members of this year’s varsity team included seniors Shelby Doerfler, Michelle Flynn, and Sarah Newhart; juniors Samantha Callaghan, Caitlin Cochran, Jade O’Keefe, and Julia Uba; sophomores Kelsie Downey, Bella Maindon, Natalie Paré, and Sophia Sarlo; and freshmen Taylor Gaudiosi, Madison Johnston, and Kristy Palmieri.
The junior varsity team from this season included sophomores Gabby Flynn, Ryley Gianni, Abbey Halloran, Erika Miller, Karissa Pfeiffer, Hailey Ryder, Rachel Strillacci, Megan Tedeschi, Martyna Tomczyk, Alyssa Watrous, and Jillian Zitofsky; and freshmen Angelina Angelillo and Casey Blumetti.
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