It’s almost March, which means the competitive cheerleading teams of Lewiston-Porter, Lockport and Starpoint must prepare for their seemingly annual trip to the state tournament.
The Lancers, Lions and Spartans all clinched their tickets on Saturday by finishing in the top two in their division at the Section VI championships in Lake Shore. The three states created in 2020 before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of all state competitions last year.
Lew-Port and Starpoint have established themselves as two of the best in Section VI, this is each’s fourth trip to the states since competitive cheering became a New York State Public High School Athletic Association-sanctioned sport. in 2016. Both won their divisions on Saturday, with LP winning the Coed and Starpoint Division II wide. Lew-Port posted the third highest score (81.00) while the Spartans (77.30) were fifth.
Lockport’s 2020 appearance in the United States was his first, and he earned a comeback by finishing second in the Small I division, posting a 74.00 which was seventh overall.
Lew-Port has the best state result of the trio, winning the minor D-2 championship in 2019. Starpoint placed second on its first trip in 2018 while Lockport was seventh two years ago.
Lancers coach Linda D’Anna credits the commitment of her athletes and recent athletic directors Brad Halgash and Scott Townsend with helping her create a program with expectations as high as any sport in western New York.
“Honestly, I think it was all random once (the district) gave us a practice room,” she said. “Before that, we didn’t have a consistent seat. We were in the primary building gymnasium, the high school gymnasium, everywhere, practicing without a mat. Sometimes in the hallways. Wherever we could find a seat, we could go.
“Once we had a gym…it really changed us. We were able to stay consistent and just hunker down and do what we need to do.”
Consistent success, of course, helps.
“Lew-Port joy is built differently,” D’Anna said. “They really buy into the program. It’s a family. You can see that in the team we have now, the girls who come back and still want to be part of it. … All my coaches (including the current assistant Taylor Tubinis) are former Lew-Port cheerleaders, won national championships, won at the state level, sections. That atmosphere is what we’re trying to create.
This year is a little different in that the Lew-Port joy has its first boy, junior Michael Mundy. His addition moved the Lancers to the coed division, which doesn’t take school size into consideration.
Another challenge this season for all teams was to rebuild after what was essentially a rest season. Due to COVID-19, the cheerleading season didn’t start until Spring’s “Fall Season II”. Anything that involves multiple athletes up close, like stunting and pyramids, has been phased out. The season ended up lasting around six weeks and was nothing like a normal competition.
“We were starting from scratch,” D’Anna said. “Everyone was on a break for two years. Not everyone was fit, not qualified, not sure how to work together. They peaked at the right time, which is what we wanted. But there were weeks when it was ugly.”
Also in Saturday’s VI competition, Niagara Falls placed third in D-1 large (65.85), Niagara Wheatfield was sixth in D-1 small (59.30), and Newfane placed 3rd in D- 2 wide (63.95). Wilson (9th, 63.90), Grand Island (10th, 63.35), North Tonawanda (11th, 62.95) and Medina (16th, 57.45) all competed in D-2 small.
The NYSPHSAA Competitive Cheerleading Championships are set to take place March 5 at Rochester University of Technology.