Nicole Altomare squeezed her teammates’ fingers, their hands locked in solidarity, as the finalists in the National High School Cheerleading Championships were announced earlier this month in Orlando, Fla.
She and her fellow Mepham High School cheerleaders did not know they would advance in the competition, as one of them fell while executing a stunt in the semifinals. But their overall performance was good enough to make the cut, as they learned in the announcement that brought tears to Samantha Maddalena’s eyes.
“When the names went out for finals, we all started crying,” she said. “I had been waiting for that moment since my freshman year.”
Mepham’s varsity cheerleading team went on to place fifth in the nation, an accomplishment added to this season’s long string of successes.
Nicole Kyriacou, who coached the team with Jayna Von Gerichten, has led the co-ed Mepham squad for eight years. Kyriacou attributed many of the squad’s regional and national competition victories to the fact they didn’t need coaches to motivate them.
“They were driven to the point where they didn’t need myself or their other coach to push them. They were pushing themselves,” she said. “They have sacrificed so much and are true competitors.”
The team began taking titles on the state level last month. Mepham placed first in the co-ed division of the Hudson Valley Cheer Championships on Jan. 19. The squad was also named grand champions of all varsity divisions, which included 18 top teams from across eastern New York.
Kyriacou said the group then won the Eastern New York State Regional Championships on Jan. 26. She explained that the team was proud to have been a part of and win the co-ed level of the competition, which was sponsored by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association for the first time this year.
The regional competitions helped prepare the team for the national championship, which was sponsored by the Universal Cheerleaders Association and held at Walt Disney World Resort on Feb. 9 and 10. Mepham ranked fifth out of 17 teams in the “Small Varsity Coed II” division.