Lady Red Devil cheerleaders win county championship
For the first time since she’s been the head coach for the Plainedge High School varsity cheerleading team, Marie Esposito saw her squad hit a number of major milestones. The Lady Red Devils not only placed first in the Nassau County Small D2 competition on March 1 at Hofstra University, but went to the New York State finals, where they took second place at the Rochester Institute of Technology on March 7. On Feb. 8 and 9, the squad went down to ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, FL, to cheer at the National Medium D2 competition. Out of 50 teams, Plainedge placed 12th. This followed on the heels of a 7-1 local competition winning streak the team experienced during the season.
It was a huge accomplishment for the 19-strong team from North Massapequa that Esposito was rightfully proud of.
“This team has made history for Plainedge Cheer and I am forever grateful to be their coach,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud of each of them. They’ve exceed their goals for the year placing higher then they even desired for. It was amazing.”
The squad is captained by Alexandra Meule and Alyssa Kannavos. Helping Esposito out with the heavy lifting is volunteer assistant coach Lauren Casquarelli. Dominique Scimeca helms the 20-member junior varsity squad. Given the immense amount of work that goes into making sure this team competes at such a high level, Esposito is cognizant about the importance of leadership from her captains and other senior team leaders. It’s an important component that clicked seamlessly enough to allow for Plainedge to reach the heights it did this season.
“This is probably the easiest year I had coaching,” she said. “I tell the girls all the time that there are always challenges that come about like injuries and figuring out what stunts work and which ones don’t. And changing things, particularly if you have to do it the day before a competition. But truthfully, this year we’ve never missed a beat. We have eight seniors who lead the team with positivity, passion and dedication every day. They truly are role models to our younger girls and will leave a legacy behind. I know that everything they’ve instilled in this program this year will live on for years to come.”
Meule and Kannavos took their leadership responsibilities seriously, particularly given the fact that their teammates were the ones who picked them to lead versus letting that decision fall on the coaches. To that end, both seniors were humbled to be put in these positions.
“The best part of serving as a captain is being a role model, not only for the other members on the team but the younger girls that look up to us on the JV team,” Meule said. “It’s an honor that they voted for and respected us enough to be their captains, while also trusting us in making decisions,” Kannavos added.
The trip to the top came via extensive practice and dedication that started at the beginning of last April. Right up through August tryouts, open gyms are held, which are open to anyone in ninth through twelfth grade looking to try out for either the junior varsity or varsity teams. Work is begun from the basics on up and are a crucial part of preparation.
“We’re really talking about five months of an off season, preparing those skills,” Esposito explained. “Once you hit August—teams that don’t do anything until that month are behind during the year. You have to go into that first week of [August] tryouts with the majority of your skills all ready. You’re starting your competition routines the next week. Off season is super important because that’s really where the girls get their tumbling skills from. Once the season starts, it’s all about drilling. There’s no time to learn new things.”
After the final squad is determined during the first week of August and the football season starts, the Lady Red Devils are at every football game, cheering on their gridiron compatriots. It’s part of a schedule that includes maintaining two-and-a-half hour practices, from Monday through Saturday. Once the football season is over, the varsity team switches gears and goes to Division 8 competitions every weekend, where they square up against squads from Wantagh, Westbury, Carle Place, Cold Spring Harbor, Malverne and Valley Stream South. Motivation is key.
Some of the ways Esposito keeps her Lady Red Devils going are pasta nights, mini-competitions at practice and a Nationals showcase for friends and family. As someone who started out in gymnastics and was recruited to the Wantagh High School varsity cheerleading team as a freshman, Esposito’s passion for the sport runs deep. So she doesn’t take for granted what her girls were able to accomplish this year.
“If an alternate had to go in, they went in and if we had to change something around, the girls were amazing at adapting to it,” she said. “It’s something that I haven’t experienced during my four years at Plainedge. There are those tough times to get through and all of that. We had them, but they overcame them so easily. I think that’s what drove us to go so far this year.”