Hempfield spirit team starts strong with 4 1st-place finishes

Monday, December 6, 2021 | 10:57 AM

Hempfield’s competitive cheerleading team appears to be a heavy favorite to repeat as WPIAL Class 3A Large Division champion in 2021-22.

The Spartans have participated in four events this season with spectacular results — four first-place finishes — and are looking forward to the WPIAL championships set for Jan. 8 at Hempfield.

“Our performances have been very strong,” coach Suzannah Mayer said. “We’re at the point where we can perform our current routine at a consistently high level. Now we’re working on upgrades and adding the necessary skills, so we’re scoring where we need to in order to feel more confident. We’re so excited and are looking forward to this year’s WPIAL championships.”

Hempfield won both game day and competitive categories at the Sparkle & Shine Cheer Fest (Oct. 31), Laurel Highlands Cheer Classic (Nov. 6) and United’s Rumble in the Jungle (Nov. 7), where the Spartans also were lauded as “grand champions” and “best cheer” squad.

More recently, the Hempfield cheerleaders took first place Nov. 14 at the UCA Allegheny Regional, again in both game day and competitive categories.

“It is so nice to see the squad off to a great start,” athletic director Brandon Rapp said. “This group, like many, commits countless hours to practice and preparation and is determined to put the best product on the floor. While last year’s WPIAL championship and strong showing at the PIAA level were rewarding for that group, the returning ladies along with a few new members went right back to work in an effort to defend their championship locally and improve at the state level.

“It is nice to see their efforts be rewarded so far. The district is certainly proud of them and are excited to see them continue to compete the rest of this season.”

Mayer believes this year’s team is multi-faceted and multi-talented.

“When I think about the strengths of this team, three come to mind,” she said. “Our biggest is experience. The majority of the athletes in our competitive program have been cheering together for the last eight years. They know each other so well. They’ve competed under the bright lights of a national stage with our feeder program, so they know how to prepare themselves both physically and mentally for big competition moments. At the same time, those experienced athletes have done a nice job of lending a hand to any new athletes, making sure they feel confident and prepared for those big moments.

“Another strength of this group is its versatility. We’re easily able to switch athletes from one position to another. The third main strength that helps is their level of intelligence. These girls are so smart, which helps them excel in this sport.”

Twenty-five of the 28 girls in the competitive cheer program were named to the honor roll in the first term of the school year.

“This is something I’m most proud of,” said Mayer, who came into the 2021-22 season focused on learning from last year’s successful campaign

“My expectations were the same as they always are,” she said, “that we follow our process and constantly learn and grow. We start every year with the coaching staff and athletes striving to internalize our takeaways from the previous season and using that experience to improve our approach.

“I expect more of the same for the remainder of the year. We’ll continue to work hard and maintain a process orientation. As long as we do that and stay focused on our goals, everything will fall into place.”

Natalie Lippa and Camryn Green are serving as co-captains this season and are two of four seniors on the squad along with Selena Gonzalez and Kaycie Miller.

“I am beyond proud of what my team has accomplished this year,” Lippa said. “I am so thankful to have a team that puts in so much time and effort to accomplish all that we have. I can’t wait to see what else this season has to offer.

“Coming from such an amazing 2020-21 season, I was excited and ready to start the 2021-22 season. We definitely had a few curveballs thrown our way at the start of the season due to injuries and girls being quarantined. But we didn’t let any obstacles stop us from accomplishing great things. As a senior, I definitely had high expectations for this team, and I am thrilled we are performing as well as we are.”

Lippa has been a competitive cheerleader for nine years and sideline cheerleader for 12. She’s also performed with Susan Yademac Dance Company for the last 15 years.

“A few days a week I spend time volunteering in a third grade classroom to gain experience,” she said, “as my future plans include teaching elementary students.”

Green said she had high hopes for this year’s squad, and the Spartans already have exceeded her belief in the talent on the team.

“My expectation was for every individual to (give) her best effort at every practice and competition,” Green said, “and I feel every individual has gone through with that. Our performance this year goes beyond what I expected.”

Green has been a cheerleader for nine years. She also participates in other extracurricular activities at her school.

The Hempfield cheer squad is dominated by the junior class this year, consisting of Taylor Artman, Abby Blahovec, Cydney Blahovec, Brooke Bomer, Loren Breslin, Andera Dancu, Madison Dingler, McCall Feenan, Emma Geiger, Alyssa Kantner, Gabi Lentz, Grace McMillen, Carissa Miller, Alex Pembleton, Saydee Resnik, Reagan Shick and Courtney Yeargers.

Gianna DeMarco, Alexa Gray, Mailly Feenan and Savannah Watson are sophomores, and Rose Bishop, Carly Coletta and Carys Short are freshmen.

After winning a WPIAL title last season, Hempfield’s season was shut down because of covid protocols.

“It was a very special year,” Lippa said. “We had an amazing group of seniors and miss them very much. We definitely had rough times due to the pandemic, but we didn’t let that stop us. We won our first WPIAL championship for Hempfield cheerleading, and I will forever treasure that moment.

“It was disappointing when we first heard we wouldn’t be permitted to attend the UCA national high school championships in-person in Florida. So we put everything we had into the virtual division of the competition. And it paid off.”

The Spartans placed second in the super large game-day division and third in the super large varsity competitive division.

“Despite the unique challenges we faced last year, we didn’t let that stop us from doing great things,” Lippa said. “I just want to take the time to appreciate cheerleading as a sport. I’ve learned a lot from my coaches, both about cheer and life in general. Cheer has given me excitement, my best friends and some of the greatest memories I could ask for.”

Green, like Lippa, said the Hempfield cheerleaders experienced an unforgettable season in 2020-21.

“Our competitive cheer team was amazing last year,” Green said. “We really stepped it up from the prior year, and continue to step it up this year.”

Alanna Wilson has been Mayer’s top assistant for the last three seasons.

“Alanna has been a blessing to me and this program,” Mayer said. “We work so well together, we balance each other out, and Alanna makes me a better coach in so many ways.”


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