Hempfield, Neshannock claim their 4th WPIAL competitive spirit championships

Saturday, January 6, 2024 | 1:18 PM

Neshannock’s competitive spirit cheer squad has won the past two state championships. However, it did not have a WPIAL title in that time.

That changed Saturday.

Neshannock claimed its fourth WPIAL title by winning the Class 2A championship at Chartiers Valley on Saturday morning and also was crowned the 2A Large Varsity champions. Neshannock also won the 2A title in 2021 and won Class A championships in 2013 and ’16.

“Our goal was always to qualify (for states),” Neshannock coach Colleen Daughtry said. “We never put winning into the picture. It’s always to feel good, do our best and keep the mistakes at a minimum. Today, they achieved that goal and beyond.”

In the afternoon, Hempfield joined Neshannock as four-time champions. It was the fourth consecutive year the Spartans took home district gold.

“The fact that we have the difficulty to make small mistakes and still score higher, we know we have to just keep doing the same thing,” Hempfield coach Suzannah Mayer said.

The competition level was at an all-time high. The top three teams in the 2A competition finished with a final score within one point of each other on the 100-point score sheet. The top four teams in 3A also finished within one point.

“There were probably five or six teams that could have won it,” Mayer said. “WPIAL is getting better and better each year. That’s a testament to the athleticism of the kids in Western Pa. and all of the coaches, too.”

Baldwin took second place in Class 3A. North Hills finished in third place and took home the 3A small varsity championship.

Central Valley, the defending 2A champion, was the 2A overall runner-up and 2A Small Squad champ. Neshannock edged the Warriors by a tenth of a point.

For Central Valley coach Heather Semovoski, she’s just glad to be able to celebrate with her team in person this time.

“Last year was awful, being in a hospital bed,” Semovoski said. “Being with them here physically this year, and just watching all of their hard work come to fruition, it’s been such a great journey.”

Butler won the coed division.

The top five 2A teams, top nine 3A teams and two at-large bids qualified for states.

Ambridge, Elizabeth Forward and Hopewell will join Neshannock and Central Valley as 2A qualifiers for the PIAA championships Jan. 27-28 in Hershey.

Thomas Jefferson, Penn-Trafford, Butler, Norwin, Seneca Valley, North Allegheny, Pine-Richland and South Fayette will join Hempfield, Baldwin and North Hills as the 3A representatives.

Ambridge is the lone first-time qualifier among the teams going to Hershey.

“We got that first PIAA bid, and I couldn’t be happier,” Ambridge coach Jenn Phillips said. “I cried! It’s the best feeling in the world.”

In a change of scenery, the championships this year were held at Chartiers Valley High School instead of Hempfield as they had been for the past decade. That venue swap might have helped the young Spartans squad that graduated 17 seniors from a year ago.

“I just thought (with the young team) that us not hosting was good for us,” Mayer said. “We just needed it to be a normal day, get on the bus, be together as a team, and it worked out.”

Neshannock’s young squad picked up as well, after graduating 20 seniors over the past two years where it won state championships.

“Every year is very stressful to get some of these freshmen that make the team prepared to fill those shoes of the very advanced and experienced athletes that we lost,” Daughtry said. “But they’re very driven, and they’re ready.”

Daughtry also said her team was motivated by one of the top cheerleaders from the area in former Navarro “Cheer” champion James “Peewee” Thomas.

“The girls ‘fan-girl’ when the see him, and they really retain everything that he has to offer them,” Daughtry said. “He just talks about his life experience … but also about how he didn’t get to experience (a WPIAL championship competition) in high school. So he tries to make them live in the moment and understand everything that is going on, both on and off of the floor.”

The 16 qualifying teams have just three weeks to prepare and likely make adjustments to their routines before the championships.

“We actually scaled back (our routine) a little bit for this competition,” Mayer said. “We just wanted to have really good execution today. But the difficulty that we took out, we will definitely be putting back in for PIAA.”

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