PJ cheerleaders win title at UCA camp

Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School

SPARTA — The Pope John XXIII Regional High School cheerleading team can say it is a champion already.

The cheerleading squad came away with a first-place trophy at the Universal Cheerleading Association summer camp at Pine Forest in Greeley, Pa.

The Lions, who attended the camp from Aug. 17-20, took first in Xtreme Routine for the High School Varsity Division. They beat out 15 other teams in their division for the title.

In addition, Pope John juniors Caitlin Hanley, Brianna Hentschel, Noelle Newman and Olivia Gang were named UCA All-American Cheerleaders.

“It was an amazing experience,” Pope John senior Victoria Caruso said recently during practice. “We worked hard and competed against some good teams. It was great.”

The Lions came to the camp having no idea what to expect from it.

After all, they had graduated eight seniors from last year’s team. Also, they had never attended this camp, which has been in existence for 48 years and has been recognized as a top-notch cheerleading camp in the Northeast.

Moreover, they had only started practicing as a team on Aug. 1, making this year

“Our first practice was Aug. 1, so we had two weeks of practice,” said Pope John head coach Ashley Rhodes, who is in her second year in charge of the squad. “It was a short amount of time for them to learn different cheers and routines. And with losing eight seniors from last year, it was looking like a rebuilding year for us.”

During the four-day camp, the Lions’ four seniors (Caruso, Morgan Myles, Morgan Reiner and Mia Rodriguez), four juniors (Hanley, Hentschel, Newman and Gang), six sophomores (Julia Drossel, Caty Jhong, Amber Turner, Cassidy Case, Natalie Fea and Alissa Beggan) and two freshmen (Victoria Fontana and Miah Ritchie) worked almost “non-stop” for about 9-10 hours per day for the first three days trying to execute the Xtreme Routine.

The Xtreme Routine is a dance they learned at the camp that incorporates stunts, jumps, and/or tumbling.

“It was tough,” Myles said. “We had two breaks a day, but we had to do everything we could — from doing flips, building pyramids and other tricks — to put everything together.”

On the fourth day, the Lions had to perform the routine in front of judges and the entire camp. When it was all said and done, the Lions came out on top — something they never envisioned.

“It was remarkable,” Myles said. “We are filled with a bunch of new girls, so it was our first time really working together. To come together and get first place out of all the teams was a really big accomplishment for us.”

“It was unexpected,” Rhoades said. “It was new to them, it was new to me. So, it was exciting for us.”

Since winning it, the Lions have been practicing in preparation for the football season, which kicks off Sept. 2 when the football team hosts Bishop McNamara High School of Forestville, Md. The Lions said they may enter another competition or two by the end of the year, but are unsure at the moment, according to Rhoades.

However, this team has a new swagger to it after becoming a champion.

“We’ve come so far,” Caruso said. “We’ve bonded as a team by doing this and this helps us want to get better everyday going forward.”

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