The 16 members of Hillsborough High School's competitive cheerleading team can move through their routine with smooth precision, turning, jumping and leaping in synchronized steps during Thursday's afternoon practice.
Their carefully-choreographed routine earned them a trip to the National High School Cheerleading Championships Feb. 9 and 10, in Orlando, Fla. The team went last year, just missing advancement to the final rounds—but with seven members returning, the cheerleaders are heading south with high expectations.
"This year, we have the potential," said sophomore Sam Goldstein, one of the cheerleaders from last year's team. "It just depends on us putting it together and 'sticking it' at the competition."
Second-year head coach Jessica Fedroff said the team spent several weeks after winning the regional competition adding to the routine to make it more challenging and better suited for the big show at the nationals.
"Right now, we're pretty much done with it," she said, but the practices help make the routine just a bit tighter, the movements a hair more focused and the leaps a little higher.
The competitive squad members start their season at the beginning of August with the full cheerleading squad, but their season continues through the end of February. The team cheers through the football and basketball seasons, as well as wrestling.
Being on the team calls on the cheerleaders' competitive natures, with "higher expectations," as Sam put it.
"I like doing the competitive cheerleading because it gives you something to work for," senior Steph Levonaitis, HHS Athlete of the Month for December who has competed at the national event twice before, said. Steph is aiming at collegiate-level cheerleading, at either the University of West Virginia, where she's already been accepted, or the University of Delaware.
The other members of the team are Samantha Barnes, Alyssa Bruno, Katie Brownlie, Kaity Gahrmann, Lyndsey Gatzemeyer, Maddie Hofmeister, Alexa Hudak, Kerry Jones, Sabrina Metallo, Sarah Mullarkey, Sydney O'Neill, Christina Polesky, Sam Ransey and Alexa Volpe.
The team's trip is being supported by sponsors, including Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, Hillsborough Pool, Racquet and Fitness Club, Impact Training, Keiser Associates, Inc., Ranger Construction, Belle Mead Orthodontics, Blue Larch Web Design, Iannella Masonry Construction LLC, Power Tumbling, VIJU, Inc., Baires Pool Plastering, Bentley’s Fine Jewelers, DC Gymnastics, Dr. Dan Marulli, Gardner Family Chiropractic, Hillsborough Dukes, Hughes-Plummer & Associates, Mailbox Business Center, Millstone Getty, Petrock’s Bar & Grille, Renaissance Hair Salon, S & R Pool & Spa, Somerset Marine, South Central Pool Supply, Teich Groh Law Firm, Angelo's II Pizzeria & Restaurant, Country Classics and Doyle Brothers Contracting.
The team is also hosting some fundraising events to further defray travel expenses: stop by the Stop and Shop Grocery store on Feb. 3 to help support the team. They'll also be hosting a dance for fifth- and sixth-graders on Feb. 15.