WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Even though they missed out on states this season, it was a unique type of year for the Mahopac cheerleading team.
“This season was different from previous years in that we had a pretty young group of athletes,” Mahopac coach Kailyn Riefenhauser said. “These girls had to figure out how to become a team in order to be successful this winter season.”
The Indians used this teamwork to earn second place in the Conference 1 large school division at sectionals at White Plains High School on Feb. 27. Cheering as a team has helped Mahopac succeed throughout this entire season.
“I feel like this year we were more connected as a team and bonded much more than years in the past,” senior Caleigh Ryan believes.
In order to come together as one unit and make one more solid run at the season’s last meeting, it certainly took some senior leadership.
“We combined our JV and varsity teams for the winter season in which we mentored and taught the younger girls new skills,” senior leader Nina Starace said.
Sophomore Nicole Harris reflected on a great learning year with the older girls guiding the squad.
“I learned a lot from the seniors on the team both on the mat and off,” Harris said. “A few that stand out to me are Taylor Buckingham, Vicky Moundroukas and Emily Straehle. They are very positive role models and I learned some great skills and techniques from them.”
The teachings sure paid off this season for Mahopac’s cheerleaders. It’s easy to forget that the Indians failed to get a state berth after Carmel High School cheerleading advanced instead, but Mahopac’s last silver medal finish still adds to a list of accomplishments from a very productive season.
“This team is full of very talented and dedicated cheerleaders,” exclaimed Riefenhauser. “We did fall short making it to the state championship this year but we wish all the best to the five teams headed to the states this weekend from Section 1.”
Mahopac placed third at meets at both Hendrick Hudson and the Westchester County Center. They also took second place at Putnam Valley and came in first place at Ketcham throughout a special season for Mahopac cheer.
“This season their first real solid routine was at the County Center competition and seeing how happy and all the tears after getting off the mats was the greatest feeling,” Riefenhauser said. “Watching these girls work so hard to hit that perfect routine, there is nothing more rewarding when they finally hit it for the first time.”
Mahopac will graduate six of these girls in 2016. For seniors like Vicky Moundroukas, it’s surely going to be tough to leave a team she has been a part of for so long.
“Graduating and knowing I’ll never cheer at Mahopac again breaks my heart,” Moundroukas said. “I’ve been cheering on varsity since basketball season of my freshman year and it has become a part of me.”
Riefenhauser harbored similar feelings for her team members.
“The most rewarding part of coaching is watching the bond between the team grow,” Riefenhauser informed. “Between sleep away camp over the summer and spending so much time together at practices, games, and competitions it is so important to enjoy our time together.”
Taylor Buckingham definitely followed Riefenhauser’s words of wisdom for her senior year of cheerleading.
“Because this year I was a senior I really took in every moment like it was my last, which made everything more special,” Buckingham recalled. “I also felt like the seniors formed a special bond which influenced the younger girls and really made us a family.”
Fellow senior Victoria Corrado learned how to improve her teammates’ performance on the mats specifically.
“Having to work hard to hit skills in one shot at a competition means having to hit them repeatedly at practice,” Corrado informed. “If anyone wants to be a cheerleader, I highly recommend it. There are so many aspects to cheerleading.”
Aspects like fighting through problems came about for senior Emily Straehle.
“In the beginning of football season this year, I had a really bad mental block with my tumbling,” Straehle said. “With the support of my coach and teammates I got through those frustrating couple of months. Once I had my tumbling back I was very proud of myself. I learned to never give up and to always push myself to my limit.”
On the flip side, freshman Breanna Gallagher is just getting started with her competing in cheerleading and saw great strides for Mahopac this year.
“Our routine had difficult stunts and almost the entire team tumbled, which scores high in routines,” Gallagher reminded.
Corrado and freshman Amanda Centrone were named UCA All-Americans.
The cheerleading season was one of learning and concentrating, but above all, was just about having some fun.
“Every time we competed, we all wanted to hit a perfect routine,” Harris said. “But most of all — we wanted to have fun doing it.”