By: John Kaywood
The Sacred Heart University cheerleading squad finished sixth at the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) & Universal Dance Association (UDA) College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship.
The category they had competed in was the All Women Division I category. The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, has been good to the Pioneers, as this was not the first time they had placed sixth at the same venue and competition. The first time, back in 2014-15.
Placing seventh in the semifinals was good enough to get the Pioneers into the finals, where they appeared cool, calm, and collected throughout, as they had already exceeded their hopes going into the event.
“We truly had no expectations making it into the finals, so once we made it, we just wanted to go out there and try to do our best routine possible,” said sophomore captain, Kayleigh Rachiele.
The Pioneers suffered an abundance of injuries in the duration of the season. Several members of the team endured concussions. Rachiele also fractured her left foot earlier on in the season.
“Due to all the injuries we had to overcome, sometimes the team would be discouraged and think that our chances would lessen due to the setbacks,” said junior captain, Jamie Parkan. “As captains, we kept the positivity up and realized we were still capable of achieving our goal.”
The squad’s coach, C.J. Sereno, a Sacred Heart alumna and Fairfield native, felt the intensity of the jitters her squad felt not only as a coach, but also as a former member of Sacred Heart’s cheerleading squad.
“I was definitely more nervous as a coach,” said Sereno. “But I gave them one little pep talk, not about my experience, but to achieve the goal of hitting the perfect routine, as we had nothing to lose.”
The team posted the perfect routine and finished with a final round score of 74.20. The perfect routine they had performed had not been fully rehearsed until just three weeks prior to the competition.
“This by far has been the most talented, dedicated, and hardworking group of cheerleaders I’ve ever coached,” said Sereno. “Being able to nail our first perfect score of the season in the final round-while already achieving our goal- was incredible.”
Walt Disney was the perfect place for the Pioneers to be at after their big sixth place finish. The park was shut down during a block party that was held on one of the final nights for all the teams to celebrate their accomplishments.
Both Rachiele and Parkan think that this is the type of achievement that will springboard the future of the program.
“The past couple years we’ve definitely had good progression, but this year, we all had a singular goal which kept us on track and ultimately made us succeed,” said Parkan.
She is the longest tenured member on the team.
Their accomplishment has not gone unnoticed, and the impact of the sixth place national finish has already bared its fruit.
“Our name got out there, and people are showing active interest in coming to Sacred Heart for the cheerleading program. So I think it definitely will aid the program going forward,” said Sereno.
The Pioneers already have their eyes on next years UCA & UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship. They have more fire and drive than ever before, and are ready to make this a habit.
“The goal for next year is top five,” said Sereno. Then Rachiele and Parkan rebutted by saying “No, definitely Top Three is the goal now.”