The Robbinsville High School cheer team only participated in one competition this year, so head coach Lauren Varnum and her squad figured they’d better make it a good one.
The girls competed in the Colonial Valley Conference competition against 13 other local squads on Nov. 22, entering in the All Music division for the first time.
That change proved to be the right move—the Ravens not only won their division, but they were also crowned CVC Grand Champions. A feat, said senior Kady Kolb, because they bested teams with significant All Music experience.
“Going against our competing teams, they’ve been in that division multiple times,” she said. “We didn’t really know. This was our first time coming up with a routine like this and having the endurance to keep going and not stop in the middle. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Kolb said there was some doubt at the beginning of the season. This year’s routine involved more stunts, tumbling, dance elements and jumps set to a mix of songs, as opposed to incorporating an actual cheer in the set.
But the sport’s more physical aspects are what the team is most comfortable with. Many of the girls have dance and gymnastics experience, as well as competitive All Star cheer backgrounds, which is similar to the type of routine Robbinsville prepared for CVCs. Varnum was confident that the style would fit the school’s program better than the traditional cheer.
“It allowed us to use our creativity,” assistant coach Amie Kazawic said. “When you have the cheer element, there’s a more militant style to it. Our girls are more fun and fancy free. A little sassy. They prefer that style.”
The girls rehearsed the routine over and over during practices throughout the season, but a number of injuries throughout the season sometimes made it difficult.
Senior captain Emily Esposito suffered the season’s first in the fall pep rally, tearing a ligament in her elbow doing a standing back handspring, sidelining her for the remainder of the season. Three girls in total were unable to compete, while one competed hurt, and on a team of 22 girls, that’s over 10 percent of the total squad.
“The girls handled it so well,” Varnum said. “Every time we came to them with the bad news that someone else was injured, they didn’t actually get that upset. They really rallied behind each other and were supportive of each other.”
And Esposito was almost as integral off the floor as she would have been on it, she added.
“She was out for the entire season, but she came to every practice and every game,” Varnum said. “She was definitely a huge help in motivating the girls.”
Shuffling around placements and positions and moving girls to and from JV throughout the season wasn’t difficult, said senior Casey Belgio, because the team was already accustomed to it from its cheer work at football games.
“We were used to mixing around different groups for stunting in games,” she said. “We got a good idea of who worked well together other than our regular stunt groups.”
Anyone watching the girls’ routine on competition day, Kolb said, never would have known what they went through to get there.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better competition,” she said. “We came off the mat, and we were just all like, ‘Did your competition really just go the way that it did?’ It was so perfect that we couldn’t have been better if we tried.”
Varnum said she and Kazawic had a similar reaction.
“When they got off the floor, Amie and I just kind of looked at each other,” she said. “We took them aside and said, ‘We couldn’t ask for anything better.’ It’s up to the judges now. In a sport that’s judged, it’s not really like putting a ball through a hoop. It’s someone else’s opinion. As coaches, we felt that they accomplished the goal that we set out for them, which was to go out and hit their routine and perform it.”
The judges saw that, too.
Lots of the other area schools go on to compete nationally, which made Robbinsville’s victory that much sweeter.
“Some of the teams that we beat when we won the overall championship go to other competitions,” Kazawic said. “They compete nationally. For us to be able to say that we beat teams that go out there was a really big accomplishment, even though we don’t travel ourselves to do that.”
It was the perfect end to a high school cheer career, Esposito said, even though she didn’t get to compete.
“We were a family all together throughout the whole season,” she said. “We would take every single new person in and work together to make a new routine. They really competed the best that they could possibly do, and I think that’s the best way to leave the cheer team.”
“Having your senior season, striving for one thing and then achieving it is the perfect way to say goodbye to all of your teammates and your coaches,” she said.