NEWTOWN—The world of competition cheerleading can be cold and vicious for a variety of reasons.
The two cheering squads from Bunnell and Stratford learned that first-hand courtesy of the Friday night’s SWC Championship competition at Newtown High School.
The Bulldogs and the Red Devils both came off the mat thrilled with their respective two-minute, 30-second performances.
After the awards were handed out, Bunnell, which placed fourth, found itself shell-shocked at the vast discrepancy in the judges’ scoring.
Stratford, meanwhile, had lost two cheerleaders to injury in the days leading up to the competition and were still putting the finishing touches on a brand-new routine less than 24 hours before hitting the mat. The Red Devils did enough to finish seventh out of 12 teams.
Host Newtown won the league title with an outstanding performance that garnered the Nighthawks a worthy 178.4 points. Joel Barlow was second with 172.2 with New Fairfield coming in third at 154.8.
Bunnell had 137.5 points with Stratford being awarded 113.3 points.
Considering what the Red Devils had to overcome, Coach Randee Hennequin was thrilled with her team’s seventh-place effort.
“I’m ecstatic,” Hennequin said. “Their performance, their excitement. Last week we were a little shaky, but they came into practice ready to do a good job. They didn’t let the two injuries knock them down. Instead, they picked themselves up and ran with it.”
Stratford only went with 11 girls on the mat and had to replace both a base and a flyer over the past couple of days.
Even more impressive was the fact that the Red Devils new flyer—sophomore Alexis Torre—had never flown before in competition.
“It made me feel like such a proud mom,” Stratford captain Kyleen Nelson said. “I was so proud of her. Where we are today, I didn’t see this coming after everything we went through.”
The changes in Stratford’s routine were major and the Red Devils were still cleaning things up as they warmed up for the league competition.
“We learned our pyramids last night,” said Avery Rosenbaum, another of Stratford’s captains. “We went through our counts in the hallway before we started, and we nailed it.”
With the knowledge they had overcome everything to put forth their best possible performance, the Red Devils were thrilled with their effort.
“We gave it all we had,” Stratford’s third captain Saraya Lewis said. “It feels so good. We went through a lot this week.”
The Bulldogs of Bunnell, meanwhile, were left feeling torn.
The girls were more than happy with their routine and came off the competition floor smiling and hugging.
The panel of eight judges, however, found flaws that left the Bunnell coaching staff scratching their heads.
“I think they did very well,” Bunnell coach Amanda Wauthier said. “There was one bobble, but other than that they hit their routine. I thought they did great.”
As the awards were announced, though, the Bulldogs were stunned they were left out of the top three.
“It’s tough as a coach because you look at the points and what you scored, and you want to be positive for the girls,” Wauthier said. “When you see things weren’t scored correctly, it’s hard. You put your heart and soul into this and it makes it hard.”
Bunnell had finished third a year ago and returned everybody while adding a new group of freshmen who added to the team’s tumbling abilities.
“We had a decent amount of new girls and they added tumbling and brought so many good things to the team,” Bunnell captain Laina Cioffi said. “They’re a big part of our team.”
The team has also grown closer over the past 365 days, which has raised the hopes of the program and made the disappointment more pronounced.
“We’re such a close team,” senior Brooke Royal said. “We’ve become so much closer and it made us have so much more energy out there.”
Added senior Talia Rannocchia, “We added harder stunts and we have more tumbling this year, so that gets our points up.”
The lack of points—especially from a couple of judges whose scoring was far lower than a handful of others—perplexed the Bulldogs.
“It’s disappointing because when we came off the mat, I thought for sure we’d get top three,” senior Juliana Barone said. “We hit all our stunts and tumbling. You never know what other teams will bring until the end. It’s upsetting, but I’m proud of everybody did so it doesn’t matter the placing.”
Despite the scoring, the Bulldogs walked out of the Newtown gym with their heads held high.
“No matter what the judges think, it’s a matter of what we think,” senior Abby Feehan said. “It’s harsh, but they’re people just like we are. If we’re proud of what we did, that’s what matters.”
No matter what the judges thought, both Bunnell and Stratford had plenty to be proud of on Friday night.