Often the most unexpected accomplishments are also the sweetest. According to Coach Stefanie DiPoalo, that’s exactly how the Mater Dei Prep Cheerleading team feels about its 2012 Gator Bowl National Championship title. Proving that hard work really does pay off, the very talented team cheered their way past five other squads from around the country to bring home the highest honor over the New Year’s holiday.
This year’s team had a lot working against them, not the least of which was the loss of five strong seniors from last year’s team and a hurricane. The team’s invitation to the Gator Bowl competition in Jacksonville, Florida didn’t arrive until early September, giving the girls three short months to prepare. They learned their full routine one day before Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast. With no place to prepare and the competition looming, Coach DiPoalo used her connections within the Keyport Pop Warner league to have the Keyport AYC gym opened to use as a practice center.
Participating in the competition, sponsored by WorldStrides Heritage Performance Programs, required an original two and a half minute routine consisting of five elements: dance, cheer, stunt, jump and tumble. While many of the girls on the team had years of dance experience, they weren’t as familiar with some of the cheer and stunt skills necessary for the routine, making first-year Coach DiPoalo’s job that much harder. The 16 Mater Dei Prep students comprising the national title team are Captains Christine Dunne, Bridget Mendillo and Megan Touhey, Co-Captain Erin Caddock, and members Erin Yetman, Gianna Limeri, Lexi Svenson, Mackensie Stimpson, Nicole Smith, Angela Porcello, Lauren Matuszewski, Jordan Lacey, Emma Bodisch, Angelina DeCapua, Kirsten Koedding, and Emily Morgan.
In addition to rehearsing their competition routine to perfection, the girls were
also required to learn a pre-choreographed arrangement to perform on the field
with other teams during the Gator Bowl half-time show. The entire team fundraised to make their trip to Jacksonville possible. They held a bake sale, worked the flea market at Saint Mary’s and found “t-shirt sponsors,” businesses and individuals willing to donate money to have their name on a t-shirt.
When the team arrived in Jacksonville in late December, the girls were awed by the level of competition. The five other teams competing were performing intermediate and advanced elements while most of the Mater Dei Prep’s team elements were considered novice. However, not only did the team come away with the coveted title, they also won the Judges’ Choice Award for best performance. After the competition, a few of the judges approached Coach DiPoalo to tell her how impressed they were with the Mater Dei team. Even though some of their elements weren’t the most difficult in the competition, the judges were very pleased with how clean the performance was, calling the routine
“It is such a good feeling” to win the title, Coach DiPoalo explained. “The girls were so nervous and to see their faces after they won” made all the hard work worthwhile.