Hempfield spirit squad ‘performed better than ever’ in winning national title

Monday, February 27, 2023 | 11:10 AM

Diligence and dedication help define the Hempfield competitive spirit cheer program. Hard work, determination and desire also prove valuable.

The WPIAL and PIAA champion Hempfield cheerleaders won a game day varsity national title for the first time in school history, taking first place in the Super Varsity Division I game day category at the UCA National High School Cheerleading Championships on Feb. 10-12, in Orlando, Fla.

“Winning the national championship in Orlando with all my best friends was so amazing and exciting,” said Grace McMillen, one of six co-captains on the Spartans’ competitive cheer squad. “The moment that second place was called, everyone started crying from joy (of winning) and could not believe it.

“We put in countless hours of hard work and every one of my teammates put her heart out on the mat. We fed off each other’s energy and performed better than ever before. I could not be prouder of my team. Throughout the entire year, we had very strong performances at every competition which led to us being able to take home the national title.”

It was a tightly contested battle at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex as just 1.4 points separated the top five squads.

“It honestly doesn’t feel real,” Hempfield coach Suzanne Mayer said. “This is our first-ever (game day varsity) national championship at the high school level.

“I think all of the top five teams could’ve won this division because every team is so strong. It was a very tough division, especially among the top five. We absolutely had to be our best to win and I think we were.”

Hempfield’s final event score was 96.7, slightly better than runner-up Collierville’s 96.6 and Live Oak’s 96.4. Crandall (95.4) and Desoto Central (95.3) placed fourth and fifth.

The Spartans saved their best for last — or when it counted the most — at this year’s national championship.

“Our girls performed their best routine this season in the final round of competition,” Mayer said. “It was perfect from start to finish.”

Hempfield’s competitive cheer squad consists of 29 girls, including 17 seniors: Abigail Blahovec, Alex Pembleton, Alyssa Kantner, Andrea Dancu, Brooke Bomer, Carissa Miller, Courtney Yeargers, Cydney Blahovec, Emma Geiger, Gabi Lentz, Grace McMillen, Loren Breslin, Madi Dingler, McCall Feenan, Reagan Shick, Saydee Resnik and Taylor Artman.

Cydney Blahovec, Bomer, Resnik, Dancu, Shick and McMillen were co-captains in 2022-23.

“Honestly, I couldn’t be happier that we won,” Blahovec said. “We have all worked so hard these past couple of years and having that (national) championship to back it up just makes everything worth it. It also means a ton that most of us are seniors and get to end on something so awesome. Our performances were amazing with some mistakes here and there, but we kept our energy up and represented Hempfield Area well.

“I feel like we ended better than we started which is what everyone wants, and it shows how much we have grown throughout the season.”

Cydney, Abigail and their brother Ben Blahovec, a football (tight end/defensive end) and track athlete at Hempfield, are triplets.

“Throughout the season, we haven’t only grown in our skillset but as a family, as well,” Cydney Blahovec said. “We have a bond that will last for a long time. Every practice may not be the best, but it helps on the hard days when you have people to lean on and talk to. I can’t wait to see what next year brings for this program.”

The Hempfield co-captain plans to attend Duquesne and study nursing. She competes in track and cross country for the Spartans and wants to run in college, as well.

Abby Blahovec also is a member of the girls track program at Hempfield. She competes in the pole vault and 300-meter hurdles. Her future plans are to attend Penn State and continue cheering.

Ben Blahovec’s future includes going to Point Park and competing in the javelin event.

Bomer’s college choice is IUP where she will study speech pathology. Bomer is a member of Hempfield’s track and field program, specializing in the shot put and discus events.

“Competing in cheerleading at the local level, we’ve always come out on top,” Bomer said. “It was exciting to also be on top at nationals, as well, and making Hempfield history.

“Our performances kept improving every time we competed, and by finals we performed at our best. The energy was insane, and we had so much fun. Being on this team for many years, especially with the 17 seniors, I couldn’t be happier to end the season being national champions.”

It wasn’t all business in Orlando for the Hempfield girls.

“We arrived early on Wednesday and went to Hollywood Studios and then Epcot to have dinner,” Bomer said.

McMillen, Feenan, Lentz and the Blahovec sisters were competitive spirit cheerleaders for four years for the Spartans. The remaining seniors were three-year competitors.

Rounding out this year’s Triple Crown championship cheer squad at Hempfield were juniors Alexa Gray, Gianna DeMarco, Mailly Feenan and Savannah Watson; sophomores Carly Coletta, Carys Short, Morgan Shaffer and Rose Bishop; and freshmen Alyssa Ranieri, Arianna Gray, Ava Lebin and Mallory Bitar.

Alanna Wilson and Shannon Lippa assisted Mayer, who recently was selected as the 2021-22 NFHS Section 2 Competitive Spirit Coach of the Year. Section 2 is comprised of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington D.C.

The cheer routine in the competitive game day division is three minutes long and showcases traditional “leading the crowd” cheers.

“Teams are evaluated on their ability to lead the crowd, proper game day skill incorporations and performance, motion and dance, and the overall routine,” Mayer said. “The routine includes four sections: band chant, situational sideline, cheer and fight song.

“It’s a type of routine that starts with high energy and you can’t drop the energy until the routine is over. A lot of our cheerleaders say they’re more exhausted after a game day routine than our traditional competitive routine.”

The path to a national title actually started for the Spartans in 2019.

“Over the last five years, our team has continued to get better in this division,” Mayer said. “In 2019, we didn’t score high enough to move on to finals. In 2020, our team made finals for the first time and placed fifth.”

The event turned virtual in 2021 because of the covid-19 pandemic that had spread across the country.

“We competed (via a video submission) and our team placed second,” Mayer said. “In 2022, we were back in-person for the first time since covid. We made finals and placed third.

“We made finals this year and won the whole thing.”

Bomer believes the Hempfield coaches helped instill an unbeatable atmosphere on this year’s squad.

“I’m very proud of my team and the amount of competitive drive we all had,” Bomer said. “We wanted this win so badly and we put in so much effort in practices ever since summer. I couldn’t be more thankful for my coaches giving us this competitive drive and always pushing us to succeed.”

The competitive spirit cheer season starts with practices in early summer that run until October, followed by local contests in November and early December. There is more practice time from mid-December through late January, and the season ends with the PIAA event in late January and national finals in early February.

The national championship victory made it a clean sweep for the high-energy Spartans this season.

Hempfield’s cheerleaders captured their second consecutive team title in the PIAA Class 3A large varsity division Jan. 27-28, at Giant Center in Hershey.

And in recent years Hempfield has been the WPIAL’s dominant cheer squad, winning the past three large varsity championships in 3A.

The Spartans finished first in the WPIAL large varsity division this year and won their third consecutive overall title.

“Our goal this year was to win WPIALs for the third time, PIAA for the second and nationals for the first,” McMillen said. “Being able to achieve all of these goals was the best possible way for the seniors to end our high school cheer careers.”


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